Blanket Stories

Blanket Stories: Talking Stick, Works Progress, Steward

Blanket Stories: Talking Stick, Works Progress, Steward was created by Portland-based artist Marie Watt for the Museum’s 2016 exhibition Art for a Nation: Inspiration from the Great Depression. In the spirit of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Museum commissioned Watt to create two sculptures for the exhibition: one from wood and one from blankets.

Blankets are everyday objects. They are taken for granted, yet as we use them, they quietly record our histories. Every blanket tells a story. Many people from the local communities of Bend, La Pine, Madras, Warm Springs and Portland responded to the Museum’s “Call for Blankets,” to include their stories in the sculpture.

The base of the blanket story column is salvaged fir from the Museum’s property. “I think of wood, like blankets, as being a storied material,” said Watt. “Not only does salvaged wood have a previous history of use, but its rings reveal a lot about the environment in which it grew. I like to think of this use of wood as being in the spirit of the WPA, as so many Works Progress projects drew from both local labor and resources, which in the Pacific Northwest would include timber.”

‘Steward’ recognizes the efforts of the region’s earliest inhabitants, caretakers and preservationists in our communities. In the High Desert region, it’s appropriate to acknowledge the tribal communities that make up the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs including the Walla Walla (later called Warm Springs), Wasco and Paiute nations. Donald M. Kerr, the conservationist and founding visionary of the High Desert Museum, was also a steward of the region. The Museum in its mission and programming shares a model of stewardship for present and future generations.

The title references a talking stick, which is a staff or cane used by some Native American tribes in the context of council meetings. Traditionally, the person who holds the staff has permission to speak while others listen. The stick is then passed, giving each person the opportunity to contribute. This practice ensures that everyone’s voice is heard.

Blanket Stories: Talking Stick, Works Progress, Steward has been added to the Museum’s collection and is on exhibit outside the entrance to the By Hand Through Memory exhibit. Read more about the individual stories woven into each blanket.

The second sculpture, created from salvaged pine from the Museum’s property, was on exhibit for the duration of Art for a Nation: Inspiration from the Great Depression.

Marie Watt (b. 1967) 2016186 x 23.25 x 23.25 in. Reclaimed blankets, paper tags and salvaged fir base

The work was acquired with the assistance of The Ford Family Foundation.