“We are received in blankets, and we leave in blankets. The work in these rooms is inspired by the stories of those beginnings and endings, and the life in between.”
~Marie Watt, artist, story teller
It was hard to get close to this colourful pile of blankets, a gorgeous sculpture by Marie Watt now showing at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. There was a crowd of people staring up at it, reading intently. As I got closer, I could see that every blanket (about 300 of them!) had a story attached — a story about a blanket, about a person’s life, about a family history.
It is the intimate fabric of people’s lives weaved together into the sacred shape of a totem pole.
The blankets come from all around the world, donated or purchased by the artist, and represent a coming together of many different cultures, times and places. The artist invited people to contribute a blanket, and their blanket story, to her ever evolving project. Here is one person’s blanket story:
Blankets have particular significance in Aboriginal culture and personal meaning for the artist: in the Seneca community, as in other Indigenous groups, blankets are given to honour those who are witnesses to important life events.
We all have a blanket story: The blanket you used to swaddle your newborn, the favourite blanket that soothes you when you’re sick, the blanket your mother quilted for you, the blanket passed down from one generation to another. And in that way, Watt’s work crosses all cultural boundaries, and I love the unifying nature of her work.
Says the artist:
“Blankets hang around in our lives and families – they gain meaning through use. 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. These wool blankets come from family, friends, acquaintances and secondhand stores (I’ll buy anything under $5). As friends come over and witness my blanket project in progress, I am struck by how the blankets function as markers for their memories and stories.” (source: MK Watt website)
I have my own blanket story, involving an iconic Hudson Bay Blanket — a gift from my father — a beagle, and the comfort and sense of “home” it has provided through several moves and life changes. Do you have a blanket story?
See more blanket stories here.