Calling all blankets: Contemporary artist to create new sculpture for MOA exhibit

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Everyday items, like a blanket, can connect cultures in a way that is both personal and artistic.

BYU’s Museum of Art is collecting wool blankets and the stories behind them for its upcoming exhibit, “Shaping America: Art and Identity.” The exhibition will feature some 80 plus pieces from the museum’s own American art collection. On display will be public favorites from the collection. However, the highlight of the exhibit will be a new piece made out of the newly collected wool blankets by Oregon-based artist Marie Watt.

The MOA has over 1600 pieces that are part of its American arts collection. Marian Wardle, curator of American art at the MOA, explained that the new exhibition will contain pieces from the museum’s American arts collection. Each piece in the collection is rotated and put on display in a new exhibit every five years.

“After five years we then take down the exhibition and give it a new angle,” Wardle said.

For the upcoming exhibition, “Shaping America: Art and Identity,” Wardle’s graduate curatorial seminar class worked together to create an exhibition that would show the cross of cultures of America and how different cultures have met and mixed throughout its history. In keeping with the theme, Wardle’s graduate students wanted to display a special piece for the exhibition that would resonate to the community and have a local flavor.

With the multicultural theme for the exhibition in mind, Wardle’s students found Marie Watt’s artwork online and Wardle contacted her to create a piece for the exhibition.

Yvette Arts, assistant to the dean and external relations for the College of Fine Arts and Communications, said the sculpture Watt will be creating will become a permanent piece for the MOA.

“The piece will be a part of several pieces for the exhibition and will be designed especially for the MOA,” Arts said.

Marie Watt is a contemporary artist who describes herself as half cowboy and half Indian, due to her multicultural heritage. Watt’s art focuses on bringing together different stories and traditions through natural materials, such as wool or stone, which she then shapes into a sculpture or piece. Recently, Watt created a blanket sculpture for Bill and Melinda Gates.

Lynda Palma, educator for the MOA, explained the uniqueness of Watt’s work.

“(Watt’s artwork) works perfectly (in) convey(ing) the multicultural thesis of this exhibition. Much of her artwork is centered on community, particularly through the use of wool blankets,” Palma said. “The wool blankets donated to the MOA will be folded and stacked to create a skyward-reaching column and welcoming tower.”

Every wool blanket — old, torn or barely used — with a story that is donated to the MOA will be tagged and be part of the new sculpture Watt will assemble in the museum in March.

Wardle hopes that those who decide to participate in the sculpture, and those who come to the exhibition, will be able to see the various multicultural influences that have formed American art.

“We want visitors to realize that not all American art came to New England via England, but there are other cultural traditions that have formed American art,” Wardle said. She hopes the new sculpture will “bring the community together and create common bonds.”

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