Curator's statement

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

Photograph by Peter Jennings

Biography

Marie Watt (b. 1967) is an American artist. Her work draws from history, biography, Iroquois protofeminism, and Indigenous principles, and addresses the interaction of the arc of history with the intimacy of memory.

Blankets, one of her primary materials, are everyday objects that can carry extraordinary histories of use. In her tribe (Ms. Watt is an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians) and other Indigenous communities, blankets are given away to honor those who are witness to important life events.

In working with blankets, her process is both solitary and collaborative. Small works are personal meditations. Larger works are made in community, notably in “sewing circles,” public events by which anyone with time and interest can participate, and in which the fellowship and storytelling around the table can be more important than the resulting object. She uses materials that are conceptually attached to narrative: in particular, exploring the stories connected with commonplace woolen blankets, cedar, and iron.

Ms. Watt holds an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University, attended Willamette University and the Institute of American Indian Arts, and in 2016 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Willamette University. Among other residencies, she has attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; and received fellowships from the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the Anonymous Was a Woman Foundation. 

Selected collections include the National Gallery of Canada, The Smithsonian institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and Renwick Gallery, The Tacoma Art Museum, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Facebook, The Seattle Art Museum, and The United States Library of Congress.

In 2015 she exhibited in the Unsuspected Possibilities show curated by Janet Dees at SITE Santa Fe, and in 2016 was commissioned by the United States State Department’s Art in Embassies program to build a 36’ tall sculpture to be permanently installed in the newly expanded US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Ms. Watt lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, the graphic designer Adam McIsaac, and her daughters, Maxine and Evelyn. She exhibits internationally, and is represented in Portland by PDX Contemporary Art, and in Seattle by Greg Kucera Gallery.