Seneca Artist Casts Collective Stories

The NCMA is thrilled to welcome Marie Watt’s work Acknowledgment: Indigenous Land, Pachamama, Story Circle (2020) into the collection. Watt was born in 1967 in Redmond, Washington, to a Seneca mother of the Turtle Clan. She currently lives and works as a multidisciplinary artist in Portland, Oregon.
Marie Watt, Acknowledgment: Indigenous Land, Pachamama, Story Circle, 2020, cast bronze, cedar, LP Unito blankets, patches, and embroidery floss , H. 45 x W. 28 x D. 28 in., Purchased with funds from the Matrons of the Arts, with additional funds from various donors, by exchange

Watt’s current work explores the meaning and role of the wool blanket. As she has stated, “We are received in blankets, we leave in blankets … The work is inspired by the stories of those beginnings and endings, and the life in between.” Her series of sculptures entitled Blanket Stories presents the everyday object of a wool blanket as living art that bears witness to life and family: “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.”

In creating her works, Watt uses a community-based process. She invites family, friends, and outsiders to contribute blankets (and the stories/memories associated with them), which she then uses to construct large-scale sculptures. Some projects are completed in a sewing circle–like atmosphere, while others are a solitary process for the artist. Watt weaves into her sculptures her own experiences as a Seneca woman, including indigenous design techniques. As she interprets the stories within each of her Blanket Stories works, she develops a title representative of the experiences contained within each collection of blankets.

About Acknowledgment: Indigenous Land, Pachamama, Story Circle, Marie has explained:

Bronze is a material historically reserved for the busts of heroic men and equestrian statues. What does it mean to create a monument out of the humble material objects from our daily lives? Blanket Stories (Acknowledgment) is a monument honoring blankets, their histories, and their ties to the land. Here bronze is employed to memorialize the stories embedded in blankets as well as the intersection of personal and public remembrance tied to place. In the making of this sculpture, the corporal object is lost in the casting process—literally incinerated—but it is also transformed into a permanent marker or a memorial in its likeness.

—Marie Watt

Watt hand embroidered words such as root medicine, ancestor, guardian tree, steward, and companion species onto fragments of Loro Piana Unito blankets, tucking them between cedar planks that form the base of the sculpture. She relates that “the texts reflect on and recognize past generations as well as stories connected to animals, the environment, and land. As its title suggests, Blanket Stories (Acknowledgment) goes beyond memorializing a single entity and illustrates its web of influence and the network involved in its creation; it acknowledges the interconnectedness of all things.”

Picture of Jennifer Dasal
Jennifer Dasal is a former curator of modern and contemporary art at the NCMA.

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