For Portland mixed media artist Marie Watt, her Seneca heritage is a source for inspiration, enlightenment and profound views on the human condition. By exploring human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects, she brings new meaning to things we may only see with our eyes – in this case blankets, as explored in the new exhibit “Marie Watt: Lodge” making its West Coast premiere June 30 at Tacoma Art Museum (TAM).
Blankets have held an esteemed place in Native American culture since time immemorial, and through her art Watt shows how blankets are dear to the hearts of others as well – hence the exhibit’s name “Lodge,” which refers to a space of welcome and a place where stories are shared.
As visitors enter the exhibit, they will be greeted by “Dwelling,” a stack of approximately 1,000 blankets that Watt gathered from people across the country. Standing almost eight feet tall, “Dwelling” tells many stories – pinned to each blanket is a tag on which the owner wrote his or her tale of the blanket’s significance.
“For Marie Watt, blankets and community and stories all combine into one, and so this is a structure in her mind…a house of stories – a dwelling of a community all living together now in this structure,” explained TAM’s Lisa Terry.
Eighty-two-year-old Peter Kubicek donated the blanket he had been issued at the Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen in 1945. He wrote, “This blanket became effectively the only shelter separating me from the cold, hard earth on which we were allowed to rest and sleep, and the dark, distant sky above.”
An exhibit highlight is the felted-wool installation “Engine” on loan from the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. A cave-like structure complete with stalagmites and stalactites, visitors are invited to remove their shoes, step into this immersive art experience and listen to holographic images of Native American storytellers projected onto the walls.
Another exhibit component, “Portraits,” includes Watt’s “Susan B. Anthony with Woodland Influences,” a wool blanket wall hanging on which she stitched a portrait of the famous civil rights leader with a Native American touch.
Watt’s mid-career retrospective “Marie Watt: Lodge” is on view through Oct. 7. On July 21, Watt will be at the museum for a 1 p.m. lecture to share the inspiration and techniques behind her work.