Fine Art

Artist in residence brings
visual arts to Oldham County

Panama native shares her ceramic know-how

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CRESTWOOD, Ky. (August 2010) – Marie-Elena Ottman’s career path has been an interesting one. She left her job as a paralegal to follow her heart’s desire, creating ceramics.

Marie Ottman

Photo provided

Oldham County Schools Arts Center
Artist-in-residency Marie-Elena
Ottman’s ceramic artwork combines her Panamanian and American upbringing.

Ottman is originally from Panama, where her father was stationed with the U.S. Air Force. “I’ve always been involved in the arts,” she said. With her mother’s encouragement, at a young age she found her passion – ceramics. But her mother was very realistic as well, telling Ottman, “You can’t make it as an artist in Panama.”
Years later, Ottman’s boss encouraged her to go to art school. After living in Panama for 21 years, Ottman moved to the United States and resided in Florida, Montana and Kentucky. At the University of Louisville, she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in ceramics.
Ottman was hired as the 2010-1011 Artist-In-Residence at the Oldham County Schools Arts Center in Crestwood. She is the head of the Ceramics program and will teach community programs and visit the different schools within the school district to work alongside teachers and students.
“This is the first offering in ceramics that we’ve had,” said Alvin MacWilliams, executive director of the Arts Center. “I think she’ll do a fantastic job bridging life experiences around the county between young and old. She relates to people well.”
MacWilliams said there is “such a need in the community and school district for students to have this type of artform.”
“She is at the top of her game as a teacher and artist,” he continued. “We look for someone who has a real passion for teaching all ages.”
Each year the Arts Center offers classes in a different artistic discipline through its Artists-In-Residence program. Three years ago music was taught by Harry Pickens and dance was taught last year by Sherri Lanie.
These courses are offered to “supplement and enhance what is already being done,” said MacWilliams. “The majority of the district does not have the facilities to produce the kind of ceramics program we want to do. We want to create a project that will enhance what the teachers are already doing.”
“This is a great opportunity as an artist,” said Ottman of her position as head of the Ceramics Department at the Arts Center.”
Ceramics “is my passion. It’s also a great chance to learn from young kids,” since children are not as limited in their thinking as adults, she said.
By being a Crestwood resident, she is “in touch with local art offerings. Because of this, she can customize and develop needs,” said MacWilliams. Another “huge benefit to having her at the Arts Center is her Spanish-speaking skills.”
Ottman was the instructor for four summer camps at the Arts Center this year in which she taught all the foundations of ceramics including the wheel and slab rolling. “You can create literally anything out of clay,” Ottman tells her classes.
Ottman began her art career as a painter and now wants to combine both mediums into her own unique style. She uses the ancient technique of coil building in her ceramics, blending traditional techniques with contemporary ideas. She has always been attracted to ancient pre-Columbian artifacts, such as those found in her native Panama.
Ottman’s colorful and intriguing artwork has been featured in “500 Animals in Clay: Contemporary Expressions of the Animal Form,” and on PBS’ “Kentucky Life,” Mainstreet” and “Bluegrass and Backroads.” She is a former Artist-In-Residence for the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville.
Ottman is also a substitute teacher for art classes at Bellarmine University in Louisville. She lives in Crestwood with her husband Shawn Ottman and their two children.

• For more information on course offerings at the Oldham County Schools Arts Center, contact the Oldham County Schools Arts Center at (502) 241-6018.

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