Woodworking art grad student incorporates political messages

Stephanie Bachman, Lead News Writer, S.L.Bachman2@iup.edu

Katie Ott (graduate, art) has been using her artwork to help spread awareness and create a dialogue about political issues important to her, especially women’s rights.

Ott originally graduated from IUP in 2012 with degrees in drawing and art education. After graduating, she got a full-time elementary school teaching job in Las Vegas before returning briefly to Pennsylvania to teach in Pittsburgh, when things changed in her life again.

“After only a few months in Pittsburgh, I was hit by a truck while riding my bicycle, and that set into motion a life shift,” Ott said in an April 1 email. “During my yearlong recovery, I decided to apply to graduate school and return to IUP [to] pursue my passion in woodworking.”

Ott returned to her alma mater to get her master’s degree because of the comprehensive and spacious woodworking facilities on campus. She also was excited to work under B.A. Harrington, the woodworking professor at IUP, whom she described as “an extremely knowledgable and classically trained professor.”

“The decision to pursue an MFA in woodworking at IUP was a no-brainer,” Ott said. “Additionally, IUP’s close proximity to many sources for native hardwoods such as oak, maple, walnut and cherry make acquiring quality furniture materials much easier.”

In the studio, Ott builds sculptural furniture objects. Her pieces are designed to promote discussion about the socially imposed expectations of people, especially women.

Primarily, she has been constructing tables. Her designs include a rotating top that makes the surface of the table nonfunctional. Sometimes, she will carve quotes on the sides of her tables that have been real things said to put women down.

Ott also said some of her more recent tables encourage viewers to write directly on the table in order to create the ongoing commentary she is trying to promote. She wants to promote feminism and remind people that it is still necessary in today’s society.

“It is a tumultuous political time for many groups of Americans,” Ott said. “As a woman and as a member of the LGBTQIA community, I have a passion for protecting the rights we have worked so hard to gain.

“Woodworking is still a man’s world, and as a female in the field, I strive to create social commentary with my sculptural furniture work.”

After completing her master’s degree, Ott said she wants to return to teaching, preferably at a middle or high school in the Pittsburgh area. Specifically, she wants to teach woodshop.

Also, she will continue to do commissioned pieces for clients as well as community-based public furniture within Pittsburgh – if she gets the grants to do so.

Ott offered some advice to other IUP students, specifically studying art.

“While you are here, take advantage of your professors and peers, get everything you possibly can from them,” she said. “Instead of working for the program you are in, make it work for you. The more chances you take, the more opportunities you will find.

“Get out of Indiana and look at some art. Pittsburgh has a great art scene, and you should definitely get in it.”