Marie-Elena Ottman’s art often reflects the dual cultural influences she was raised in. Born in Panama to an American father and Panamanian mother, Marie-Elena combines her two cultures into her artwork. She pulls inspiration from ancient pre-Columbian artifacts and the diverse animal and plant species of her homeland. The unique creatures in the jungles of Panama, such as large birds, provided inspiration for Harmony/Armonia. At age 21, Marie-Elena broke Panamanian tradition and chose to attend college in Montana and graduated from the University of Louisville’s Master of Fine Arts program.
Harmony/Armonia is the perfect depiction of Ottman’s relationship with her two cultures.
The piece is a self-portrait of sorts, showing her dual personality with American and Panamanian roots and how they live in harmony together. But while the two cultures are harmonious, they can also bring tension, as shown by the two heads split from the body. Bright colors are common among her work and inspired by the indigenous people of Panama.
Marie-Elena uses the technique of coil building to create her ceramic pieces. Harmony/Armonia, specifically, is made out of coiled and molded terra cotta, with brightly colored blue, green, and yellow glazes in homage to her Panama heritage. Coil building is a method of creating pottery that has been used for thousands of years. Coil building allows for thicker and taller vessels because the artist has more control over the walls. To make a coiled pot or vessel, you gradually stack and join coils of clay. The coils can be left visible or smoothed away for a different texture and aesthetic. You can see the coils on Harmony/Armonia have been smoothed away for an even finish.
Fun Fact About the Artist:
Marie-Elena Ottman paddled 52 miles over three days from the Atlantic Ocean through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean in a cayuco - a canoe type boat used by indigenous groups in Panama.
Donated to KMAC by the artist in 2009
Artist Statement. Marie-Elena.com. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
Kentucky Crafted Artists. Kentucky Arts Council. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
“Marie-Elena Ottman, Ceramic Sculpture”. Clay Elements Blog. Published September 14, 2018. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
“A Q&A with artist Marie-Elena Ottman”. LEO Weekly. Published December 4, 2017. Retreived August 6, 2019.