- United States
Marie Watt, United States
- Mixed media
About the Artist
Marie Watt was born in 1967 in Redmond, Washington, to a Seneca mother of the Turtle Clan and a German father whose family owned a ranch in Wyoming. She describes herself as being “half Cowboy and half Indian.” Both of Watt’s parents supported her early artistic career. She currently lives and works as a multidisciplinary artist in Portland, Oregon.
Watt’s current work explores the meaning and role of the wool blanket by experimenting with the sculptural qualities of the medium. As Watt states, “We are received in blankets, we leave in blankets.” Her Blanket Stories sculptures present the everyday object of a wool blanket as a living art object that bears witness to life and family.
In creating her Blanket Stories sculptures, Watt uses a community-based process. She invites family, friends, and outsiders to contribute blankets which she then uses to construct large-scale sculptures. Additionally, Watt weaves into her sculptures her own experiences as a Seneca woman, including indigenous design techniques.
Watt’s Blanket Stories series is a culmination of her recognition of her role as “custodian” to the blanket’s stories and the collaboration within communities.
Watt created Blanket Story: Confluence, Heirloom, and Tenth Mountain Division specifically for the Denver Art Museum in the summer of 2013 as part of her residency with the Denver Art Museum’s Native Arts Artist in Residence program.
What Inspired It
“We are received in blankets, and we leave in blankets…The work is inspired by the stories of those beginnings and endings, and the life in between,” says Watt. In collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, Watt invited the Denver community to donate blankets, along with stories about them, to this piece. Over the course of the summer, 157 blankets were collected.
Watt’s choice of blankets as a material is rooted in the deep connections that we all have to blankets. When describing her project, Watt explained, “Blankets are used for warmth and shelter. Children use them for hiding and to construct impromptu forts. Wool blankets are the pelts of our animal relatives, the sheep. Blankets are body-like. In Native American communities, blankets are given away to honor people for being witnesses to important life events. For this reason, it is considered as great a privilege to give a blanket away as it is to receive one.”
As Watt reads and interprets the stories within each of her Blanket Stories works, she develops a title representative of the experiences contained within each collection of blankets. In the title of this piece, Blanket Story: Confluence, Heirloom, and Tenth Mountain Division, the term confluence recognizes the geographical confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, as well as the coming together of people to create the sculpture. Heirloom continues Watt’s recent exploration into blankets as heirlooms, markers of people’s lives, and individual ledgers within each blanket story. Tenth Mountain Division identifies the influence of the 10th Mountain Division in strategic battles during WWII, and its later influence in the development of Colorado’s skiing community and industry. This portion of the title was inspired by one of the donated blankets.
“The blankets in this piece were given with the heirloom-like intent of passing on stories, remembrances, and teachings,” says Watt.
Each blanket is carefully folded and stacked by Watt herself. As to their order, it is far from random. Watt talks about color, pattern, and the relationships that she notices between blanket stories as key factors that contribute to the order. While there are many ways to interpret Watt’s column, Watt has herself described the look and feel as reminiscent of a linen closet.
As she collects blankets, Watt also collects stories. For this sculpture, Watt provided tags for contributors to write their blanket’s story and meaning. It is in the sifting and sorting of blankets and their stories that Watt develops the order and eventually a title for the piece. “Part of my responsibility is sharing the stories . . . in the spirit in which these stories have been given to me, passing them on like an heirloom,” says Watt.
Standing at 20 feet tall, Blanket Story is framed by two cedar totem poles in the Northwest Coast gallery. The location of the sculpture in the gallery underscores Watt’s relationship to and fondness for the cedar and conifer forests of Oregon where she grew up and now lives.
The totems of the Northwest Coast are a source of inspiration for Watt’s blanket columns. Watt has described the verticality of these poles and the towering pines as inspiration for her work.
People often inquire as to how the blankets maintain their firmly stacked form. Watt only shares her secret to the stacking with her utmost confidants. According to the artist, “The teacher in me believes in telling people the answer to their questions. But sometimes I think the mystery of the experience is more important than knowing the answer.”
Watt was very specific in her desire for the base to be made of reclaimed cedar, another nod to her Northwest Coast background and home.