Welding her Ohe’n path

PITA alumni finds creative expression in the metal arts

From being born on a farm outside Peers, Alta. in 1937 to working with a member of the Group of Seven and founding her own art centre, Katie Ohe has had an eclectic and vast career.

A sculptor whose focus is primarily with that of metals, Ohe has had an extensive history that began in 1953 at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA), now known as SAIT and ACAD. She has taught art at the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, and currently teaches once a week at the Alberta College of Art and Design.

Her pieces are featured not only all over Calgary, U of C and ACAD, but also throughout Canada as well as international waters. Most recently, her work has been featured at the Herringer Kiss Gallery for Contemporary Art in an exhibition titled Ethos, now and then, which showcased her acclaimed “Sculpture Prayer” series, and a new series of sculptures called “The Chuckles,” which ran until Nov. 14.

As a child, Ohe said she had a rich imagination. She was always drawing or painting or “doing something creative.”

At the age of nine, Ohe had to work for room and board at a house in Peers in order to attend school, seeing as the other rural school closest to her had closed down due to lack of children and the alternative would have been to walk six miles both ways everyday.

“You must do what you are,” were the words of her parents, upon her arrival to the farm one summer and alerting her parents that she wanted to attend art school at the age of 16.

She began her career as an artist at PITA working with wood as a wood carver.

“I was working with sculpture and paint simultaneously, but my strength was in sculpture.”

In her third year, she began to work with clay derived from the inspiration of sculptor and potter Luke Lindoe. In that same year, Ohe had received a scholarship that was initiated by Lindoe and other instructors, so she spent a year at the Montreal Museum learning child art education with Arthur Lismer, a member of the Group of Seven, best known for their work on Nature and the Canadian landscape.

Following her time in Montreal, Ohe returned to Calgary and was teaching ceramic arts and mixed media to adults and children at the Allied Art Centre with many other art graduates from PITA.

In the early 1970s, Ohe began to feel as though she needed more sculpture education, and with support from many of the instructors and friends at PITA, to go and take her postgraduate degree at SculptureCenter in New York City.

Upon returning to Calgary, one of her new students at the art school was the General Manager at Dominion Bridge, a major metalworking and welding company in the city, and invited Ohe to the facility to learn how to weld.

Soon after, Ohe realized that this would be her new passion and she quickly began the hunt for a studio in the city so she could pursue larger sculpture work.

“I remember driving around and seeing this beautiful brick house along Sarcee Trail, but I didnít know who lived there,” she said.

Ohe, seeing a beautiful carriage house in the backyard drove to the home and knocked on the door.

“A woman walked out with all these little children around her,” explained Ohe, “and I asked her if the carriage house was available.”

The woman, who had yet to introduce herself said the carriage house was a mess and that Ohe would not be interested.

“The more she thought it wasnít good enough, the more I needed it.”

She would later be in touch by Stu Hart, a professional wrestler and promoter in Calgary and father of wrestling legends Bret and Owen Hart. The carriage house had become her base of operations for the next 14 years.

“They donated my first welder and went to liquid air and gathered all the acetylene and oxygen tanks I would need to work,” she said.

“I was liberated,” she said, but has been ever thankful to the help she received and how blessed she was in her career.

“I owe Dominion Bridge and the Hart family a great deal.”

Even today, Ohe is still ever humble and has a deep love, honour and admiration for PITA, saying the principles and structure that she learned gave her a solid background and launch for her career.

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