Marie Watt is a multidisciplinary artist, whose work centers on community engagement and is inspired by Native design, oral tradition and Western art history.
Watt favors natural materials like stone, cornhusks, and cedar. Most notable is her work with blankets – both as an object and as a metaphor in her life. She likes to explore human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects, and her interest in the history of wool blankets, along with their heirloom-like quality, greatly influences her work. Her work is continually referenced in contemporary Native art discourse and featured at the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, PDX Contemporary Art, the Portland Art Museum and national venues.
With her National Artist Fellowship Award from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Marie began a body of work titled The Incomplete Indigenous Botanical Canon — Plant Stores, Remedies, Illustrations. This work encompassed drawing, large hand-sewn tapestries, and organizing community sewing circles. Community collaboration is an important aspect in her projects, describing sewing circles as “public events by which anyone with time and interest can participate, and in which the fellowship and storytelling around the table can be more important than the resulting object.” Along with the first phase of this project, she exhibited her work in a solo mid-career survey titled Lodge, which premiered at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Oregon. The exhibition then traveled to the Tacoma Art Museum, where over 21,000 people experienced her show. An unexpected outcome of her fellowship was a “pop-up” project called Wreath, which debuted at the Willamette University’s 10th annual Social Pow-wow. This installation was designed to “pop-up” anywhere, and explored ideas about reciprocity, giving thanks and acknowledging people.
“I tend to think of my work as part of a continuum. One project leads to more questions that lead to future work. The NACF Artist Fellowship has paved the foundation for work that will happen over the next decade,” said Watt. “The award from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation represents communal support and validation — a sense of others’ belief in what you do. It offers fiscal means for the most basic of resources, studio space and materials, and ultimately, the encouragement to take risks.”
Watt earned a BS in Speech Communications and Art from Willamette University in 1990 and went on to earn an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University in 1996. In 2004, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian-NY featured her work in its Continuum 12 artist series. Watt was named an Eiteljorg Fellow in 2005 and won the Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award in 2009.