Whether her hands are thick with clay behind the pottery wheel or she is demonstrating a technique for her students, Amanda Ontiveros lives for art.
The 2019 Central alumna spends most of her days creating ceramic works inside the Yakima Maker Space, both for private sale and restaurants in the area. But even before she was creating awe-inspiring art pieces for a living, Ontiveros had a passion for expression. That’s why she believes she has found her true calling.
“I love working in this ancient medium,” she said in describing her ceramics background. “Growing up, I was always playing in the dirt. Now I can keep my hands dirty while creating pieces that inspire me.”
While her personal work often focuses on her Mexican roots and the balance between life and death, Ontiveros also produces a variety of original pieces for Yakima Valley eateries, including ceramic bowls, plates, and serving platters for Crafted Eatery & Bar. Next into the kiln are pieces for 617 Nomad, a bistro and mercantile near the Cowiche Canyon Conservatory.
Before Ontiveros began exhibiting her work and producing paid pieces, her footsteps echoed through Randall Hall on her way to the ceramics studio. While she already has many notable accomplishments, her success wasn’t always a given. Ontiveros took a non-traditional path toward her CWU education, and for years, her path toward a professional art career felt uncertain.
Long before she decided to pursue her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree, she explored various career directions while splitting time as a wife and mother. But, in the spring of 2016, she decided to pair her passion for painting and ceramics with CWU’s charm and value.
It didn’t take long for Ontiveros to discover that she still had a lot to learn. She jokes about how often she was reminded that, as a middle-aged Hispanic woman, she stood out from most other students on campus. At the same time, she speaks fondly of her time at CWU.
“I felt so included,” the 43-year-old said. “It didn’t matter that I was an old lady with these college students.”
That feeling was cast even stronger once Ontiveros discovered the ceramics studio, and she spent the next few years refining her craft and building her ceramics family in Ellensburg.
Ontiveros experimented with glazes and techniques, connected with fellow artists, and felt like she had found a home in the Art + Design Department. But, at the peak of her artistic journey, she realized she would not be able to afford her last two quarters at CWU.
Not willing to give up on her dreams, Ontiveros applied for and received the C. Farrell Fine Arts & Research Scholarship in 2018. That boost allowed her to finish her BFA while also providing her with an opportunity to show her work at the Gallery One Visual Arts Center.
Her 2019 show, “Unseen Lament,” featured macabre imagery and nature-inspired ceramic pieces like logs rich with glazed oak leaves, mushrooms, and bugs. Ontiveros has always believed that art should be accessible to everyone, and she wants to encourage people to feel something.
“People love being able to touch the art,” she said. “It was important to me to make sure my art could be discovered by all.”
A few years after graduating, Ontiveros continues to reveal new ways she can make her art and ceramics more accessible for others.
Sharing Her Passion
While she usually has her hands full in the studio, Ontiveros is fast becoming a household name in the Yakima Valley because of her willingness to share her passion and expertise.
She enjoys getting other people involved by teaching ceramics classes for Yakima Maker Space members, including how to use ceramics tools and throw clay at the wheel.
“I love giving myself a challenge,” she said. “You’re only as good as your last mistake, and I’m always trying to push myself creatively.”
Fall is one of her favorite times of the year because she gets to celebrate her heritage and honor her deceased loved ones by showing her work at the Día de los Muertos celebration at the Mighty Tieton art gallery. During the pandemic, Ontiveros also helped breathe life into vacant storefront windows in downtown Yakima as a featured artist for “Windows Alive.”
Above all, Ontiveros is passionate about sharing her work. And while her themes often teeter on the edge of life and death, she believes they serve as a reminder of one’s own humanity. She recognizes that being human is all about trying, failing, trying again, and growing through the hard times.
“I see a human before I see anyone else,” she said. “We are connected because we are all human.”