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Sneak Peek: the Totem Project, Part 1

It is our pleasure to present a monumental project, nearly 3 years in the making to date: a 7 foot tall 3-dimensional totem.

The project began in early 2009 when Preston and his longtime friend and collaborator, woodcarver David Svenson, co-designed a full-scale totem depicting a beloved family story about Preston’s great-grandmother as a child.

They went out into the woods those uncles. They were out gathering food. That’s when they came across a bear out there in the woods. They shot that bear, but what they didn’t know was that it was a mother bear that came in between the uncles and the cubs. That is what happened.

They shot that bear and then they saw the cubs. They took those cubs back to the village Douglas. That is what they called it at that time. That is where my great grandmother lived. She was called Susie Johnson. She lived there at that time. She was a young girl then. She was young.

She liked that bear cub that they uncles brought there. She wanted that bear cub as her pet. Her parents wanted her to be happy so they let her keep that bear cub at home. She kept it at home and raised it like one might have a dog. My great grandmother, Susie, loved that bear! What a thing to have a grizzly bear for a pet! She would get food for that hear and feed it, and take care of it. She made a bed for that bear and it lived there with the family.

There was a woman who was Russian. There were a lot of Russians there. She made taffy and would sell it in the streets. When she sold it in the streets, the bear would smell the taffy. That bear loved the taffy that it would get from my great grandmother.

Every time that Russian woman would go through the street with that taffy, the bear would smell it. After a while she wanted to get that bear some more taffy, so she went to get some berries from the fields at the base of the mountains. She took those berries back to the village. She had those berries that she sold for money to buy taffy. That’s how she got taffy for that bear.

After a while that bear got big. Too big to keep around the house. The bear was getting too dangerous and big to keep. So her uncles took it back to the woods. They left that bear in the woods so it wouldn’t hurt anyone in the village. She cried when they took that bear away. She cried, but after a while she knew why the uncles took that bear away. Because it was getting too big. Even after it was gone, she cried sometimes. My great grandmother loved that bear. – Preston Singletary, 2001

Preston found inspiration from this story and produced a small table-top scale glass totem depicting it in 1998. He has revisited the form several times over the years, but this project will be the definitive physical embodiment of the tale.

From early 2009 to earlier this year, Svenson carved the design into a large log of red cedar. Molds were then taken of the carving to produce a plaster version for further casting. The totem exists now in its original wooden form, here in the Seattle studio, and as a monumental bronze – just produced by Bronzesmith Fine Art Foundry for the outdoor sculpture market, available through Blue Rain Gallery.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll unveil photos of the carving and casting processes, as well as images of the finished wood and bronze totems. This will all lead up to the goal of the project: a full-scale solid cast glass version, the prototype of which is currently being tested by master caster Ray Ahlgren at Fireart Glass in Portland, Oregon.

Stay tuned for more!