THE STORY OF Raven releasing, or “stealing,” the daylight is one of the most iconic stories of the Tlingit People of Southeast Alaska. The Tlingit name for Raven is Yéil. Many people know the basic story, yet there are variations unique to specific villages and individual storytellers.
Glass artist Preston Kochéin Singletary was deeply influenced by his friend and mentor Shdal’éiw Walter Porter, a Tlingit American who died in 2013. Porter was a historian, mythologist and storyteller who researched Tlingit creation stories and compared them to stories from around the world. He identified similarities in the symbolism and messages embodied in the stories. Porter spent many years presenting the Yéil ka Keiwa.aa (“Raven and the Box of Daylight”) story to diverse audiences. He encouraged listeners to carefully consider specific story details as evidence of our shared humanity, while still recognizing distinct cultural differences. When Porter first viewed Singletary’s “Raven Steals the Sun” sculpture, he recognized the potential for Singletary’s art to communicate stories, and encouraged him on a narrative path through his art.
There are dozens of Raven stories told throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Tlingit have many “Raven and the Box of Daylight” stories; we examined five of them for the exhibition at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, all from Tlingit storytellers.
Each of the stories emphasizes different aspects of the same story. Every telling is a unique treasure — for their families, their communities and for all Tlingit people. The story in the exhibition, which runs through Sept. 2, is a blend of their voices, woven together. Our version was influenced by the specific details in the stories, details that helped shape Singletary’s glass art and his vision. The exhibition adapts the ancient story to bring all of us into the present, so we can imagine what Raven went through to bring the light to the world.
The story of Yéil ka Keiwa.aa (“Raven and the Box of Daylight”) unfolds through four areas: along the Nass River, Transformation, Clan House and World Drenched in Daylight. The underlying messages are not only about light entering the world, but also the values of family over possessions, forgiveness and accountability for one’s actions.
Porter once said, “The importance of mythology is that it’s universal. Every culture has the same information disguised in story.” We hope you recognize some of your own story.