We are received in blankets, and we leave in blankets. The work is inspired by the stories of those beginnings and endings, and the life in between.
Each/Other: Marie Watt and Cannupa Hanska Luger is on view at the Denver Art Museum through August 22, 2021. One of the pieces created specifically for the exhibition is Blanket Stories: Great Grandmother, Pandemic, Daybreak. Watt sent out a call for contributors earlier this year to help her construct a monumental tower made out of donated blankets.
For Watt—a citizen of the Seneca Nation of Indians, one of six tribes that make up the Iroquois Confederacy—blankets hold a special meaning. In the Seneca community, as well as other First Nations, blankets are given away to honor those who are witness to important life events.
Watt asked participants to include a story detailing the significance behind each blanket—where they got it, who it reminds them of, what was going on in their lives at the time they received it. You can read some of the 100+ stories on the artwork itself and find them all here in one downloadable compilation. (Look for a QR code in the galleries to pull up the stories on your phone.)
Below are a few highlights. Many thanks to everyone who shared their story with us.
My sister, Cary Oleisky, made this blanket to honor our mother, who was dying from brain cancer. Our mother taught us to knit and to give the final project to a friend or relative who needed to be kept warm. Now our mom needed to be kept warm. Today is the 50th anniversary of her death. She will be honored forever as a part of your art.
My blanket is one that used to bring warmth. It was made by my grandmother for my high school graduation and it was such a sincere gesture of reaching that milestone of achievement. She makes one for each member of her family for big life events—graduation, marriage, and beginning a family.
About three years after receiving this quilt, having moved to Oregon [to begin] my undergraduate degree, I came out to her. I had just started my first relationship and embarked on the tricky journey of coming out to my family members. She decided to sever her relationship with me. I have since struggled with what I should do with this quilt, as the warmth that was once there—generosity, labor, love—has been stripped from it. Still, I have held onto it—now for 10 years—and realize I need to let it go.
Much like the journey that many queer people embark on when they come out, I have been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who I consider family, my chosen family. Parting with this blanket, one tangled with complex emotions and homophobia, is incredibly freeing. A weight is lifted.
I’ve gone through many phases of coping or not coping to various degrees with COVID this past year. Making things has been a part of that, in a way that has been at varying times both calming and almost manic. This blanket is one of three 'test' blankets I made for my sister’s yet-to-be-born child. As I made it, it grew around me almost like a cocoon, and I felt like the blanket and I were working together to soothe me. When I finished it, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. This call for blankets came at just the right time for both of us.