Photograph by Benjamin Benschneider/OTTO

Blanket Stories: Transportation Object, Generous Ones, Trek

18 × 4 × 6 ft.
Cast bronze
Collection of Tacoma Art Museum
Tacoma, WA
Photograph by Benjamin Benschneider/OTTO

I am Seneca (Iroquois) and German-Scots. Blankets are a significant part of my familial experience. In my tribe and many others, we give away blankets to mark important life events. Blankets are signifiers of identity in other cultures, as well: a well-known example is the tartans of the Scots. But most blankets are everyday objects. We take them for granted; yet they hold extraordinary histories of use.

With an interest in shared story, blankets in this piece were contributed by members of the greater Tacoma Art Museum community. The project began with an open call for people to contribute blankets and their stories in exchange for a small silkscreen print; the call for blankets also included an opportunity to donate blankets to the Tacoma Rescue Mission (that opportunity still exists and is encouraged; follow this link to contribute).

Blankets came from eleven states and three countries, and have undoubtably crossed more territories and borders than we will ever know. I was struck by how many blankets accompanied individuals and families as they journeyed west; themes of moving, homesteading and immigrating regularly emerged. The representation of blankets that share stories and tributes to servicemen and -women acknowledge Tacoma’s proximity to the Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the significance of veterans to our nation. Handmade – quilted and crocheted – blankets are prominently represented and recognize their storied makers: grandmothers, home-ec students, mothers, sisters and the occasional male. An assortment of baby blankets allude to an infant’s arrival in this world and a deep connection to these woven objects of security. Some blankets have been instrumental in fort-building, comings-of-age, road-tripping, and camping.  Others have nurtured members of the community through illnesses, and many more memorialize loved ones who have passed on.

These stacked blanket forms cross each other, suggesting an “X” – a signature, a term of endearment, the indicator of a name on a treaty, a marker of place and event. An “O” might be at the result from the form, if you could follow it through the walls of the museum. I am drawn to the many associations we have with circles: the first shape a toddler can draw, the wheel of a cart, the moon, the sun, a ball, and so on.

Bronze is a practical material for an outdoor sculpture, but my intention is also conceptual.  Historically, bronze was used to make busts of statesmen and military leaders. Here, it is employed to memorialize stories of everyday lives, as well as the intersection of personal and public remembrance. In this project the corporal object is lost in the casting process – literally incinerated – but is transformed to a permanent marker, a memorial, in its likeness. Remnants of the original object’s life, photos and stories, exist here on this site for further reflection.

The sculpture’s color suggests the connection of water and sky, though its origins are humble as the blankets: it’s standard Safety Blue; used in industrial applications and for highway signage.

Transportation Object is the term used to classify cradleboards at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Physically and metaphorically, blankets transport us: they receive us when we are born and they shroud us at death. On the western frontier, this transportation object functioned as regalia, clothing, bedding, and currency.

Generous Ones acknowledges Tacoma’s indigenous inhabitants, the Puyallup and Coast Salish People. The name Puyallup or S’Puyalupubsh means “generous and welcoming behavior to all people (friends and strangers) who enter our lands.” The phrase “Generous Ones” also allows us to reflect and acknowledge those who are generous in our lives.

Trek reflects on slow journeys, as well as the dynamic confluence and exchange that is a part of migrating and settling.