Katie Ohe has been a creator all her life.
Growing up in small-town Northern Alberta, Katie always drew and painted, and at the tender age of 16 she set out for Calgary to study at the Alberta College of Art and Design in the early 1950s.
Her first days at the school were daunting for the young artist. Encountering art exhibits and surrounded by students who were all older than her, she thought, “Who do I think I am?”
But Katie dove into her studies at ACAD and her life in Calgary, working evenings as a waitress to make ends meet.
At school she discovered sculpture and began to develop a distinctive approach, becoming one of the first Alberta artists to explore abstract sculpture, a practice that she would refine over the course of her post-ACAD studies in New York and Italy. But Katie always returned to the beauty and space of Calgary.
Over her career, she has developed a reputation for creating playful, muscular, kinetic sculptures, designed to be touched. Galleries or curators worried about people touching the artwork? “That’s their problem,” Katie says with a laugh.
Her favourite medium is metal, and a lifetime of hefting, grinding, bending stock and welding – work out of the ordinary for a woman of her era – has given Katie an unexpected physical presence.
Inspired by physics and space, she creates sculptures that move in a particular way, and change the space around and within them. “I am interested in participation and that requires precision,” she says of her highly engineered and finely balanced work that invites interaction.
A long-time instructor at ACAD, Katie has influenced and inspired generations of emerging artists in Calgary and beyond.
Her impact reaches even further. Recently she and her husband, artist Harry Kiyooka, donated their Springbank acreage, home, studios and art collection to help found the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre, a charitable society dedicated to the promotion of contemporary art, as a way of giving back to the Calgary community that has supported them.