Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Marie Watt

By Gail Tremblay

Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Cousin Rose, Four Pelts, and Sky Woman (detail), 2005, Stacked and folded wool blankets, salvaged cedar, Approx. 20 x 20 x 180 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Cousin Rose, Four Pelts, and Sky Woman (detail), 2005, Stacked and folded wool blankets, salvaged cedar, Approx. 20 x 20 x 180 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Marie Watt is an artist of Seneca, Scottish, and German ancestry. Her art explores the confluence of myth, history and memory drawing from ancient and modern stories. In her most recent body of work, she employs the blanket as both material and metaphor. Used as gifts at naming ceremonies and memorials, blankets have a particular set of meanings in the American Indian community making their use as an art material particularly evocative.

Watt conceives of blankets as both wall-related, two-dimensional objects that can be stitched to create tapestry—as in Ballad of Ira Hayes (2008)or as materials that can be piled on pedestals between floor and ceiling as in Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Cousin Rose, Four Pelts, and Sky Woman (2005).  Ballad of Ira Hayes honors the Pima World War II veteran, placing his face before a symbol of his people—the man in the maze. In the lower right hand corner the viewer can see the portraits of the four other marines and the navy corpsman that raised the United States flag over Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima with Hayes. The use of army blankets as one of the materials for the piece adds a nuanced meaning.

Blankets can also be slit and sewn into webs to create large three-dimensional objects like her dynamic work, Forget-me-not: Mothers and Sons (2008). In this piece, Watt attaches more than one hundred hand-stitched portraits of young men from Oregon (where she resides) who died serving in the United States military. To each of these portraits, she has attached a handwritten nametag and an image of the soldier’s mother, thus creating a shrine to generational relationships informed by love and loss.

Forget-me-not: Mothers & Sons, 2008, Reclaimed wool blankets, satin bindings, thread, structural steel, Circle: 20 foot diameter, 10 feet tall, Courtesy of the artist

Forget-me-not: Mothers & Sons, 2008, Reclaimed wool blankets, satin bindings, thread, structural steel, Circle: 20 foot diameter, 10 feet tall, Courtesy of the artist

Watt frequently enlists help from the community for her large-scale works. She advertises for people to make sections of her work in sewing circles in return for food that she provides. This practice allows her to complete sizeable works that have detailed stitching in a shorter time span and, importantly, results in a community involvement that helps define the work as a collaborative effort.

When discussing her practice, Watt has written, “My work is about 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.”[1] Watt’s work has earned numerous awards including the 2009 Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award, the 2007 Anonymous Was A Woman Award, the 2006 Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship and the 2005 Eiteljorg Museum Artist Fellowship. Her work is collected by the Hallie Ford Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum, The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and the Seattle Art Museum.

The Ballad of Ira Hayes, 2008, Reclaimed wool, thread (hand-sewn), 31 1/2 x 30 1/4 inches, Courtesy of the artist

The Ballad of Ira Hayes, 2008, Reclaimed wool, thread (hand-sewn), 31 1/2 x 30 1/4 inches, Courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  


 

[1] Marie Watt Studio, “Blanket Stories: Graphic Work,” http://mkwatt.com/index.php/content/work_detail/category/blanket_stories_graphic_work

 

 

Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013

Web-based Resources 

 

Barrow, Bruce, ed. “Sculptor Marie Watt.” Art Beat Oregon. Oregon Public Broadcasting. 2010. http://www.opb.org/programs/artbeat/segments/view/883.

This 11-minute video segment originally aired in 2010.

Greg Kucera Gallery. “Marie Watt: Resume.” Marie Watt: Resume. March 21, 2013. http://www.gregkucera.com/watt_resume.htm.

This website provides a link to artist’s resume, and includes Watt’s list of solo exhibitions, group exhibitions, awards and residences, educational background and bibliography.

Smithsonian Institution. “Continuum 12 Artists: Artists.” Continuum 12 Artists. 2004. http://www.nmai.si.edu/exhibitions/continuum/subpage.cfm?subpage=artists.

This is a NMAI website extension for an exhibition catalogue that featuring artist Marie Watt, and also provides links to her contributing artwork and an essay about the artist.

Watt, Marie. “Marie Watt Studio.” Marie Watt Studio. 1995-2011. http://mkwatt.com/index.php.

The artist’s website provides past and present works, lists up-coming exhibitions and history of artwork, artist’s contact information, biographical sketch, artwork history, press and other current events with the artist.

 

Selected Bibliography

 

Russell, Karen Kramer, Janet Catherine Berlo, and Kathleen E. Ash-Milby. Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art. Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum, 2012.

This is an exhibition and published catalogue featuring artworks by Marie Watt, and serves as a great resource for artist’s artistic inspiration and conceptualism for producing her artworks.

Watt, Marie. Marie Watt: Blanket Stories: Almanac. Casper, WY: Nicolaysen Art Museum, 2006.

This is a published catalogue of artworks produced by Marie Watt, Blanket Stories series, and highlights insight about Watt’s artistic conceptualism for creating this body of artwork.