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Expanding the diversity of our contemporary glass collection

Posted on June 19, 2020 at 4:00 PM by Adrienne Gennett

Last fall University Museums received a generous donation from Jason Kogan in honor of his late wife Lori A. Jacobson (image at left), for whom the new gallery at the Brunnier Art Museum is also named. Lori began her relationship with the Museums as an undergraduate intern with our now Director, Lynette Pohlman. Their friendship continued as Lori went on to pursue a career in the museum field working with University Museums several times throughout her professional career. The reopening gala last September was a moment to honor Lori, her accomplishments, and her impactful relationship with University Museums. It was a wonderful event and in thanks her husband, Jason Kogan, donated funds to be used at the discretion of Museums' staff.

My suggestion was of course, a work of art, specifically glass. University Museums’ decorative arts collection has many highlights, but one of its strengths is the encyclopedic glass collection. As a curator, I work to build the permanent collection in directions that will broaden the depth of its strengths which often has me considering historic and contemporary glass, like the Met Chandeliers. I am also always interested in artists who will bring greater diversity and new voices to the collection. Preston Singletary (b. 1963) is a contemporary glass artist that I have long admired and wanted in the Museums’ permanent collection. I took this opportunity to suggest using a portion of Jason’s generous donation for an acquisition of Singletary’s art.

The glass created by Singletary is extraordinarily beautiful, yet also deeply meaningful. Singletary is Tlingit, one of the three groups of indigenous people of Southeastern Alaska, along with the Haida and Tsimshian. He uses the visual language of his culture in the glass that he makes, creating imagery that uses the traditional shapes and stories from the Tlingit, but in a non-traditional material, glass. Using the transformational nature of glass, he was able to recreate these traditional motifs in a wholly new way. The homage to the natural world and understanding the balance of life within the world that surrounds you is just as prominent in Singletary’s glass as it is in traditional Tlingit artforms. Singletary often notes that those traditional materials are becoming rarer and more unavailable, so by using the material of glass he is able to continue the important and beautiful visual language of his culture. He is also a mentor and collaborator with other Native and indigenous makers, using his ability with glass to inspire others to experiment with new materials. Glass has not always been an accessible and easy medium for Native and indigenous makers, but Singletary is working to bring more diversity and access to the field.

University Museums was able to acquire Oil on Feather by Preston Singletary and it will be on exhibit in the Christian Petersen Art Museum this upcoming fall semester. The feather is depicted oversize in a curved position, covered in traditional Tlingit motifs, with a round droplet of oil placed on the end, nearly dripping off. While the initial form is blown, cased, and fused glass, the decorative designs are created by sand carving, allowing for the deep red interior color to shine through. When lit, the interior red glass glows highlighting the motifs Singletary has chosen to use on this particular work of art. The imagery of the feather and its designs references the Tlingit themselves and the ink-colored droplet is the oil that has disrupted the traditional lands of many Native peoples, both in Alaska and throughout much of North America. It is a work of art that is well suited to the visual literacy and learning that University Museums actively implements on the ISU campus. The layers of meaning and interpretation require close looking and active critical thinking to decipher and understand.

This acquisition is important for many reasons – it expands the diversity of our contemporary glass collection, it represents current issues that will be important touch points for generations to come, and it honors Lori A. Jacobson, hopefully inspiring ISU students to enter the museum field as she was once inspired to do on this campus.

Oil on Feather, 2019 by Preston Singletary (American, b. 1963). Blown, cased, fused and sand carved glass. Purchased by University Museums. Gift in memory of Lori A. Jacobson from Jason D. Kogan. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2019.232
Photos by Russell Johnson and courtesy of Preston Singletary Studio.

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