During a recent visit to the Denver Art Museum, my favorite work was a totem-pole-like tower of blankets created by artist Marie Watt. It was dramatic at a distance, displayed among gorgeous traditional Northwestern Indian sculpture and coats and carvings. It was evocative as I came closer and realized that each blanket included a tag listing the donor of the blanket and the story behind the blanket. The tower encapsulated feelings of emotion and story and community. A book displayed nearby included each tag and story and photos of the blanket and donor.
Back at home, I ordered a book about her work, Lodge, and read through her website. A short film shows Watt mesmerizing teenagers with thread, as they embroider birds and drones and spaceships onto blanket fragments. It must be the first time that many of the young men sat with friends, needle and fabric in hand, seriously stitching. Marie Watt says, “When your head is down and you’re working with something as familiar as cloth, I think it is sometimes easier to talk and share with your neighbors and learn things about them….. There are many ways to communicate our contemporary experience.”
I also saw a “call for blankets” for a similar tower installation to be erected in the American Embassy in Pakistan. I knew just which blanket I should send, and contacted the artist for instructions. It’s off!
Here is what I wrote on my tag.
“I’m cold.” When I asked for more blankets as a child, this satin-bound wool blanket was the sort that my mother or grandmother would provide. When extra warmth was needed, you could be sure to find a few blankets of this type in almost every Minnesota home. I’ve pulled them from many closets throughout my life. Especially, I remember them from chilly summer nights at the lakeside home of my grandparents.
My house is filled with textiles, cookware, pottery and paintings from relatives. I’m not sure which relative gave me this blanket, but it is filled with the memories of farm houses and lake homes, of comfort and family and security.
What bed coverings remind people in Pakistan of feeling warm and secure with their grandmothers? Somewhere in Pakistan a grandmother is tucking in a child under a blanket that will be remembered forever. In a fundamental way, I know this woman.
I probably won’t travel to Pakistan soon, but I love the idea of sending warmth and friendship through participating in this project.
Here is granddaughter Alden, visiting from Los Angeles. She doesn’t need a closet full of these blankets. I’ll remember this blanket, and the day I sent it.