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Evoking A Linen Closet: Sculpturist Collects Blankets, Stories For New Installation

When we think about blankets, we usually conjure comforting images: babies swaddled in flannel wraps, colorful afghans hand knit by loved ones, puffy quilts that we snuggle under when the weather is cold.

When artist Marie Watt thinks about blankets, she sees the raw materials for sculpture.

Watt started her blanket fixation almost a decade ago, while working on a sculpture about sleep and sleeplessness.

"I collected them, knowing I wanted to make a sculpture that would be a column of folded and stacked blankets, and it might evoke a linen closet," she says.

Watt had no idea this one project would launch her into an ongoing quest not just for blankets, but for the stories that people associate with them.

"What happened is, I would see friends and family and they would see these blankets and they would break into story. They would say, 'oh I used to have a blanket like that, or my grandmother had a blanket like that."

Watt was intrigued by the idea that a piece of cloth could be loaded with meaning. She decided to collect not only blankets, but stories associated with them. Watt's decision has evolved into a project she calls "Blanket Stories." Her work has appeared everywhere from Northwest galleries to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Watt is half Seneca Indian, and she traces part of her love of stories to her grandmother, a "natural storyteller."

Now Watt has created her largest-ever blanket sculpture for the Tacoma Art Museum. She's collected hundreds of blankets, and the stories that accompany them, for this endeavor. The finished sculpture will be installed outside TAM's new Haub Family Galleries. Both the building and Watt's sculpture open to the public in November 15, 2014.

The fact that the sculpture is cast in bronze tickles Watt. "That is basically a material that historically has been used for busts, or equestrian statues," she says.

Watt likes the idea that a humble object like a blanket will be bronzed for posterity. She's equally thrilled that TAM will create a digital archive for the stories that accompany the hundreds of blankets she's collected.

"Those stories really touch me, and move me, and I do want to share them."

This story was originally broadcast June 26, 2014.