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Blanket Stories

October 5, 2004 to November 6, 2004



My work explores human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects. For my October exhibits at PDX Gallery and the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center I am working on a project that explores the history of wool blankets. I find myself attracted to the blanket’s two- and three-dimensional qualities. On a wall, a blanket functions as a tapestry, but on a body it functions as a robe and living art object. Blankets serve a utilitarian function. As I fold and stack blankets they begin to form columns that have references to linen closets, architectural braces, memorials (Trajan), sculpture (Brancusi for one), the great totem poles of the Northwest and the conifer trees with which I grew up. In Native communities blankets are given away to honor people for being witnesses to important life events—births and comings-of-age, graduations and marriages, namings and honorings. For this reason, it is as much of a privilege to give a blanket away as it is to receive one. As friends come over and witness blankets, I am struck by how they function as markers for memories and stories. I combine wool blankets to make banner-like and sampler-like hand stitched assemblages (I think of them as paintings) in the form of ledgers, shields, and relations.

At IFCC I will show documentation of friends, family and friends of friends, who have rallied to help me complete larger scaled work in the context of Sewing Bees at my home/studio; the result is an amazing amount of story and exchange, not to mention a range of personal signatures (stitches) that are incorporated into the blankets history and energy. I will also host Sewing Bees, open to the public, on Fridays during the month of October at IFCC.

With the assistance of a Regional Art and Culture Project Grant and a Oregon Arts Commission Artist Fellowship, I am also combining the blankets with reclaimed cedar and bronze in collaboration with the Walla Walla Foundry to create sculptures. Cedar is known to protect wool from moths and is used for hope chests. Cedar is a sacred natural resource for indigenous people of the Northwest. Bronze, a historically "high art" material, is used to memorialize the common blanket. I find the American custom of bronzing baby shoes an odd choice; it makes more sense to me that blankets be preserved in this fashion.

Blankets hang around in our lives and families—they gain meaning through use. My work is explores social and cultural histories imbedded in commonplace objects. I consciously draw from indigenous design principles, oral traditions, and personal experience to shape the inner logic of the work I make.
--Marie Watt, 2004