Artist: Marie Watt
Commentary by Michalyn Steele
Visiting Professor of Law
J. Ruben Clark Law School, BYU
Marie Watt’s work is informed by her Seneca Indian heritage, but also by her conception of art as an opportunity to engage across barriers of language, culture and time. In the blanket, Watt sees the rituals of life’s key passages: the energy of warmth, the embrace of community, and the comfort and complexity of memory. Watt has observed that “we are received in blankets, and we leave in blankets.”
A baby is swaddled in a blanket immediately after birth to ease the shock of leaving the warmth of the womb and to welcome her into the world. Many babies receive specially sewn or quilted blankets as their first gifts. Toddlers cling to their blankets like trusted friends and learn to comfort themselves against pressing fears with the companionship of a blanket. Blankets are often prized family heirlooms linking generations. Newlyweds are presented with quilts to mark the beginning of a new family. In many Native American cultures, the gift of a blanket solemnizes the significance of important moments; it sends the traveler on his journey with the honor and love of the giver.
Like the fabric of memory, wool can last a lifetime and beyond, or can be fragile and fleeting, ravaged by the passage of time. A treasured blanket may be the tattered threads holding the smells and textures of childhood. Sewing circles and quilting bees bring communities together—often groups of women—in a shared endeavor of form and function, an opportunity to sew friendships and share silence as well as stories of the sublime and the mundane.
As a Seneca Indian, I see echoes of the generations who have come before and the generations yet to come in the layered column, each individual a variation on a common theme of shared DNA, shared stories, shared strength and warmth. I see the miraculous survival of the Indian people—in some ways tattered—but preserved, upheld and enfolded by the grandmothers and mothers before me. They wrapped their babies in the protective blankets of culture against the winds of genocide and assimilation and whispered love. They willed them to survive.
The cedar foundation is that firm foundation whereupon if we build we cannot fail; it preserves and protects. It allows the generations to soar.
Dobkins, Rebecca J, Ed. Marie Watt: Lodge. Salem: University of Washington Press, 2012. Print.