Native American Arts in Focus: Edson’s Flag

Media - 2015.28.7 - SAAM-2015.28.7_1 - 119634
Marie Watt, Edson's Flag, 2004, American flag (from U.S. military burial) with wool blankets, satin, and thread, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Driek and Michael Zirinsky in honor of Jane Beebe and Spencer Beebe, 2015.28.7, © 2004, Marie K. Watt

Through her artwork, multimedia artist Marie Watt seeks to reposition the way Indigenous art is understood and to challenge how Native artists are often seen as living and creating in the past. Watt began incorporating  blankets into her work as a reference to the tradition of giving blankets to honor people as they experience important life events—a tradition passed on in her family; her tribe, the Seneca Nation of Indians; and across many Native communities. 

I’m compelled how an object that is in some ways so humble and simple can have so much meaning and power.

— Marie Watt

Watt was approached by an artist/veteran who asked about the absence of military blankets in her blanket series. As a result, she created Edson’s Flag to honor veterans; in particular, her great-uncle Edson Plummer, who served as an airplane mechanic in the Air Force during World War II. Edson’s Flag is made of military blankets and Plummer’s own casket flag. In her 2018 talk at SAAM, part of the museum’s Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series, she notes, “The flag is revealed and concealed but not cut or desecrated. This piece is a tribute to Edson, Indigenous warriors, and veterans.”  

The stars and stripes of his funeral flag are visible behind an array of blankets, which in Watt’s hands represent everyday objects carrying both extraordinary histories and intimate memories. Like many of the artist’s stitched wall pieces, the work evokes pop art, abstract expressionism, and the visual traditions of Native American communities. 

Hear from Marie Watt in a Meet the Artist video and listen to her speak as part of the Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series in American Art. Explore Native contemporary art and the legacy of Indigenous military service from Smithsonian experts in Double Take Online: Honoring Native Veterans Through Art. Educators can share Edson’s Flag with their students with these online educational resources.