"It's about the humble yet significant part blankets play in our lives," said Watt, whose fabric blanket sculptures were shown at TAM's last biennial, as well as the Institution of
"In order to have the bronze, the blanket must give itself to the process," said Watt poetically.
But to have blankets at all, Watt is asking South Sounders to donate them, along with the story that goes with each of them: a cherished baby blanket, a moth-eaten blanket that warmed a favorite pet, an heirloom. Substitute blankets can be given in lieu of any blanket that's truly too valuable to lose, Watt said.
Then the blankets must be stitched together -- and with 400 blankets expected, that's a lot of work.
"I used to stitch it all myself," Watt said of the early days of her blanket sculptures. "But I realized that to make my deadlines I needed help."
Paying an assistant didn't work financially or for quality, said Watt, and so the artist started inviting her friends to stitching bees.
"I would feed them, they could bring a friend, no sewing experience necessary," Watt explained. Eventually, she "got a little brave" and started extending the invitation to the public, offering free silk-screened prints to participants if she couldn't offer food. The result was a sewing circle tradition that not only contributed stories Watt added to the sculpture's accompanying handmade book, but also taught her about community.
"I learned that everyone from 3 years to 83 can sew," she said. "And that everyone's stitch is unique, like a fingerprint. And when the stitches all go together, it's like we're related. The sewing circle is a bit like a barn-raising. When you're working with something as humble, tactile and flowing as cloth, the conversation just flows. In this time when so much of our lives is taken up by technology, it's nice to slow down and get together in this way."
Watt held a couple of sewing circles at the museum in April, where about 30 people dropped by. The museum already has 50 donated blankets, and people can donate anytime during museum hours until
And while the details (and budget) are still being worked out, Watt is hoping that the stories will be present in some way near the sculpture -- not in book form, but possibly digitally, via an interactive station inside the lobby.
The sculpture's full title, "Blanket Stories: Transportation Object, Generous Ones and Trek," also references other symbolism, such as the Native American tradition of cradleboards to transport babies, and the idea of a museum as a transportation object for our imaginations. It acknowledges both the
"By this use of the blanket as vehicle, as symbol, as medium, she's touched on something that has really deep resonance (not just) with Native Americans (but) with just about everyone, at least those of us who live in places where blankets are needed," said
"Blankets have such mixed meaning for Native Americans -- as the harbinger of the fur trade, as currency, as a substitute for more labor-intensive things like buffalo robes -- but also as vehicles for disease," Dobkins said. "And (creating) such monumental sculpture but with textiles raises issues of gender and power. There's just so much depth and possible interpretation. I think that's why they're so successful."
Finally, the sculpture -- and the artist's own heritage -- add to the conversation TAM is trying to enable regarding the concept of Western art. With a
"I think it's an extraordinary opportunity, and the museum is actively trying to start a conversation about the topic of the historic American West ... what the West actually is," Watt said.
Participate: Donate a blanket by
Info: 253-272-4258, tacomaartmuseum.org
Be charitable: TAM is accepting donated blankets for the
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