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Thinking About Katie Ohe

For this post in my series on Alberta women artists in the University of Lethbridge collection, we’re looking at another aspect of education that can never get enough attention—networking. The bottom line is that the networks built while we learn matter. Having a web of in-person or digital connections means that we don’t miss out on moments of growth or even just some companionship. We carry them with us through our professional lives as we move far beyond the classroom or maybe find ourselves back in it. The art world in Canada isn’t all that big when you stop to think about it. That’s a powerful tool to become familiar with! To bring it back to the theme of this series, arts education constructs a network of contacts, confidants, and influences that will invariably have a hand in shaping an artist’s career. This week’s Alberta woman artist knows all about maintaining those ties for her personal development as she helps others to build their own.

Video Killed the Radio Star (detail), 2015. University of Lethbridge Art Gallery photograph. This exhibition considered art production of the 1980s from multiple angles.

Katie Ohe is a Calgary-based sculptor, educator, and mentor. She was one of the very first abstract sculptors working within Alberta. Her art is an invitation to explore, creating tactile experiences through combinations of kinetic motion and abstract shapes. For anyone looking for examples of her most well-known styles and techniques—which in a single word are iconic—the Esker Foundation in Calgary hosted a 2020 exhibition presenting six decades of her career. Ohe has been teaching sculpture at AUArts since 1970 and is now Lecturer Emeritus. In an interview with me, she mentioned that she’s always enjoyed teaching alongside maintaining her studio practice. To Ohe, students keep one current and thinking, which is an added benefit alongside having connections with other artists in the art school environment. Her students then become her colleagues, as many of her former students have moved on to become high profile artists in their own right.

Ohe attended the Alberta College of Art and Design, the Montreal School of Art and Design, the Sculpture Centre in New York, and Fonderia Fabris in Italy. I was not able to turn up too much on the programs at the Sculpture Centre, but Fonderia Fabris is a renowned metal workshop working with many students at any one time. For a little twist in the story, one of Ohe’s first formal instructors was none other than abstract great Marion Nicoll. Ohe cites one of the reasons for her art production remaining so strong over the years as having had ironclad support. She has received friendship and enduring belief in her continuing career from artists, teachers, and gallery directors alike. She has won more honours than I can easily list here, but Ohe said she was particularly proud of the year 2019 when she received both the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award and the Alberta Order of Excellence.

“Crackpot”, ceramic, by Katie Ohe (Canadian, 1937- ). University of Lethbridge Art Collection, gift of R.D. Bell, Calgary, 1989.

The University of Lethbridge Art Collection contains pieces that offer a look into the early years of Ohe’s practice. The first is the little ceramic number Crackpot, one of her works from before Ohe moved into using steel as a preferred medium. Crackpot later evolved into two ten-foot columns that form a sculpture at Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre Sculpture Park in Calgary. It’s fun to think about that leap from small ceramics here to the huge structures and sleek steel of her later works. Crackpot stands on its own, interesting because of the jagged crack on its equator, and is a great evolutionary marker in such a long, storied career.

“Third Movement”, 1969, ink, by Katie Ohe (Canadian, 1937- ). University of Lethbridge Art Collection, gift of Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess 2017.

Moving a little bit away from her sculpture work, the university collection contains a few of Ohe’s silkscreen prints. Third Movement is a brightly coloured piece of Optic Art that almost changes the longer one looks at it. Ohe continues to make small silkscreen prints like this and for a very fun reason. She has fallen into the practice of making a year-end print that she bases on the metaphors used in the previous year’s sculptural endeavours; almost as a means of tying together everything she has worked on and achieved before moving on to the challenges of a new year. It’s a different way of looking at producing a piece, for sure, and makes for such a great look at where she stood as an artist through the years of her career. With Ohe, we have a chance to look at someone who has evolved and maintained her presence by actively engaging with a network that easily wraps around the province itself.

Kelsey Black

Collection and Outreach Assistant

Acknowledgements and Sources

Many thanks to Katie Ohe for providing me with information and allowing the inclusion of her artwork. Check out these links for more of her work:

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