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Marie Watt: Lodge in Tacoma

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Walking into the installation of Tacoma Art Museum's upcoming exhibit, Marie Watt: Lodge, the first thing I see is a woman rolling back and forth on a 6-feet high stack of flattened blankets. Her arms are folded as if she's on fire and she's trying to put herself out.

"That's actually part of the installation process; she's tamping it down," explained PR and communications manager Lisa Terry McKeown. "It has to be packed down tight, because there are literally hundreds of blankets."

Hundreds of blankets, donated from around the world and each with its own story, will make up what will eventually be an 8-feet high tower. It includes blankets with stories as varied as those of the simple and sweet quilts that were treasured wedding gifts to the weighty, such as one that was worn across the shoulders of a holocaust survivor during a death march. The stories hang from handwritten tags pinned to the blankets by those who donated them.

The resulting blanket sculpture, Dwelling, is just one of the visually stunning pieces that make up this exhibition of the work of nationally recognized mixed media artist Marie Watt. Watt's work explores the ritual in everyday objects, and the human stories that are passed down as the objects themselves are.

These stories will be traded in another piece, Engine, an elaborately built cave-like structure crafted of felted wool and wood. Visitors can enter this large-as-life piece to experience an audio/visual presentation displayed on the interior walls of the piece, like long ago cave art come to life.

In an artist statement, Watt wonders if her collective work is about building, less in the sense of the finished structure and more about the components of a structure, the objects that recall the "... ways in which we know, comfort, shelter, home."  Having been raised in Redmond, not far away from where her work will be displayed, the sense of home and community is evident everywhere in the exhibition.  The work presented to visitors doesn't feel unfinished, but does feel as though it's still evolving. As I look at Dwelling, I imagine a special blanket of mine being added to the top of the tower. I share with McKeown the story of the blanket my stepfather wore the day he passed away.

"That's the interesting thing," she replies. "Everyone who sees this work is reminded of their own stories."

In that sense, the exhibition is truly interactive and wholly encompasses the spirit of community. Watt's work offers a special challenge to visitors to explore the stories and special meaning behind the "things" that make up the patchwork of their own lives.

{Marie Watt: Lodge, Blankets, Stories and Communities at Tacoma Art Museum, opens Friday and runs through Oct. 7, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 253.272-4258}

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