Photograph by Melissa Christy

Blanket Stories: Textile Society, R.R. Stewart, Ancient One

2016
420 × 24 × 24 in.
Folded and stacked wool blankets, manila tags, salvaged cedar base
Collection of U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC
Photograph by Melissa Christy

Blanket Stories: Textile Society, R.R. Stewart, Ancient One is a site-specific installation commissioned by the United States Department of State’s office of Art in Embassies for the new embassy in Islamabad.

The project references the historical significance of textiles in the early Muslim world, often characterized as a having been a “textile society.” R.R. Stewart was a New York-born botanist who spent most of his life traveling on foot throughout Pakistan studying the plants of the region. His impressive collection of plant specimens eventually became the basis of the country’s National Herbarium in Islamabad. The term “Ancient One” refers to the early lands and civilizations that have come to be known as Pakistan. It also refers to the Seneca word Uk’sode Gowan, meaning both “great-grandmother” and “ancient one.”

The installation will be a three-story-tall interior sculpture for the new embassy’s atrium, composed of 400 wool or other natural-fiber blankets, collected from the community and assembled into one totem-like column which will enable the intermingling of diverse narratives including American, Pakistani, Native American, Islamic, and many others from around the globe. In a multitude of colors, textures, patterns, and worn bits, the installation will evoke associations and conversations about the rich history of the textile trade as well as the importance of cultural exchange in the Islamic world.

What is a blanket story?

Blankets are everyday objects. We take them for granted, yet as we use them, they quietly record our histories: a lumpy shape, a worn binding, mended patches. Every blanket holds a story.

In the secondhand and thrift-store blankets I use in much of my work, I can only guess at the story. But when I can work with contributed blankets, I ask each contributor to record the blanket’s story (or the contributor’s story as it relates to the blanket) on a tag. These stories remain with the blankets in their installations, and are also transcribed and collected, so that others can share them.

Blanket and story from Kenya, contributed to Blanket Stories: Seven Generations, Adawe, Hearth at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

Sometimes, people want to contribute but don’t want to give up a beloved blanket. That’s fine, too. The story is the most important thing. You’re welcome to send a proxy blanket—one without a story, or without one related to you—along with your story.