Harry Kiyooka and Katie Ohe have dedicated their lives to art. Their work has helped shape the local, national and international art scenes. And now they are taking the step of not just being figurative institutions on the scene, but turning their home into a literal institution for art creation.
This is the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre, soon to be a place to study and appreciate art. Right now, it is where Harry Kiyooka and Katie Ohe live, two great Alberta artists who have dedicated their lives to creating art and sharing it with others.
He’s an abstract painter, art collector and art advocate. She’s a teacher who makes kinetic sculptures and prints. They met in the 1960s – they can’t agree on the story of their first meeting – and bought the land in Springbank for their home and studios in 1973. They’re both legends in the Canadian art world, yet few Calgarians outside of the visual arts scene know how great an impact Kiyooka and Ohe have had on art in Alberta.
Both Ohe and Kiyooka were born in Alberta and raised in poor families. Kiyooka, born in 1928, moved from Calgary with his family to a farm north of Edmonton in 1941 during the Second World War. As Japanese-Canadians, the family had faced racism and prejudice in Calgary.
“My father lost his job in Calgary and that’s how we ended up on the farm,” says Kiyooka. “But he was a city person. He didn’t know how to farm. In fact, he didn’t know the front end of a horse from the back!”
After the war, Kiyooka knew he had to earn a living and made the practical decision to study education at the University of Alberta. After seven months of studying, he got a job teaching at a school in a small German-Canadian community in Eastern Alberta. Much of what he earned, he sent home to his parents.
Art came later, after his older brother, Roy, made the leap first. “My parents didn’t really encourage us to be artists,” says Harry. “But, when both my brother and I started earning a living from it, they thought it couldn’t be so bad.”
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