Blankets play a central role in Marie Watt’s sculptural practice, equally as sculptural material and conceptual foundation. Watt believes that blankets provide access to social connections, historical traditions, and cross-cultural meanings. For almost a decade, Watt has further developed her use of blankets through a series of sculptures titled Blanket Stories. These large-scale works are composed of blankets collected by the artist through her requests to a community for donations of both blankets and stories about the importance of each blanket to the individual or family.
For Tacoma Art Museum, Watt created Blanket Stories: Transportation Object, Generous Ones, Trek. The sculpture’s form and color relate to her 2011 maquette Cradle (blue), a möbius-like set of rings cast in resin and composed from small swatches of fabric, neatly folded into tiny squares. Given the site conditions, Watt distilled the form of the earlier maquette and envisioned a section resulting in two arching, twisting, and crossing columns of blankets that spring from the ground and reach to the museum building.
Blanket Stories: Transportation Object, Generous Ones, Trek evolved into a new, hybrid form of sculpture in two inseparable parts. The first is the physical object: 16-foot and 18-foot cast bronze elements that grace Pacific Avenue. The casting process captured the textures, fringe, and bindings of nearly 350 different blankets. Both stacks have been given a cerulean blue patina that the artist terms “safety blue.” This color references the sky, rain, and highway signs such as those identifying exits for hospitals.
The second aspect is access to the information and stories provided about each of the blankets by the donors. Working with the museum, the artist collected blankets from members of the community, asking the donors to share their memories and stories. The sum of these stories proves how we share a common humanity. They reveal that a simple household item offers comfort, protection, and security across all human categories—race, class, gender, occupation, age. Blankets also represent sacrifice, generosity, and emotional bonds.
Watt recognizes that blankets served this purpose for generations and distilled this into the title.
She discovered that cradle boards were categorized as “transportation objects” while researching at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. She explains that 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.” The word trek evokes a slow journey as well as the dynamics of migrating and settling in a new place, a subtle reference to the new Haub Family Collection of Western American art, recently gifted to Tacoma Art Museum.
The combination of a graceful, magnificent bronze sculpture and the generosity of the many blanket donors represents the core values of Tacoma Art Museum and the communities that support the museum. Blanket Stories: Transportation Object, Generous Ones, Trek will remind generations of visitors to Tacoma that our personal histories connect and that we thrive together.
Tacoma Art Museum acknowledges the generosity, expertise, and good will of the many individuals of the Walla Walla Foundry for the realization of Blanket Stories: Transportation Object, Generous Ones, Trek.
— Rock Hushka | Chief Curator, Tacoma Art Museum