Although Marie Watt identifies as a Native American artist on grounds that she is both Native American (Seneca, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois) and an artist, her work draws from her ethnicity to form relationships with the larger world. In developing a catalogue for a large exhibition of her work at the Boise Art Museum and the Nicolaysen Museum in Casper, Wyoming, we deliberately avoided the ghetto-izing manner popular in interpretations of contemporary Native American art (sepia-toned photographs, the words land, spirit and power). Ms. Watt is a modern artist, and we framed this collection of her work in a modern context, letting her work speak for itself.
Ms. Watt’s medium for the past several years has been wool: specifically, second-hand wool blankets scrounged from thrift stores. The blanket, of course, is a potent symbol for the history of Anglo-Native relations, but in Ms. Watt’s hands it is more than that. She sees blankets as markers of the private histories of all peoples: we all carry memories of a favorite blanket; moth-holes, cigarette burns, patterns of wear on the binding become a map of experience. We opened and closed Almanac with details of blankets pulled from Ms. Watt’s stock to give the reader a sense of the material made image, and to acclimate him to the narrow color range the blankets impose.
Half-title. At each of her exhibitions, Ms. Watt maintains a book wherein visitors are asked to record stories relating to personally significant blankets or memories spurred by the exhibition, hence the subtitle Blanket Stories. We excerpted these books, now numbering in the dozens, throughout this piece.
Main title. The anchor of this particular show was a grouping of monumental stacks of blankets and sculptures in bronze and wood derived from them. We developed a typographic motif based upon the idea of stacking (more on that later); here and on the cover we begin to intimate Ms. Watt’s idea of a forest of blankets and story.
Curator’s essay, showing at left a detail of one of Ms. Watt’s blanket towers, which range from eight to thirty feet in height. Here you can see the type resting on two baselines: one near the bottom of the page, reserved for the main narrative and one about a third from the top, for captions and other didactic content. Headlines hang below the top baseline to draw the two areas together and trigger the figure/ground relationship between the type area and the pale background tint, which is both an organizational tool and a nod to the stripe proportions on trade blankets.
Essay, showing larger referenced work. You can also see a small diagram at the upper right of the illustration; we used these to show the proper scale of larger works, since many of them were too large to document properly in context.
Many of Ms. Watt’s larger works are executed in community: Braid, a 10’ × 20’ wall hanging came about through several weeks of “sewing bees”, events wherein the artist’s friends and neighbors and in some cases interested strangers would gather around the piece, sewing and talking. These pages show some of the 70+ people involved in the construction of Braid, as well as a lithograph study of the piece at upper right.
Braid, complete. Note diagram at upper right showing scale. This work is in the permanent collection of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art.
Pages showing three shorter blanket columns, installed at an earlier show at the Hoffmann Gallery at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
Pages from the graphic work section; lithographs were shown as knockouts, with the paper deckle painstakingly maintained — an effort to tie these works more closely to the more organic wool constructions earlier.