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Viola Frey


circa early 1960's

2 x 12 in. (5.08 x 30.48 cm)
Gift of Richard A. Harrison

In a career that encompasses functional pottery to larger-than-life ceramic figural sculptures, Viola Frey holds an influential place within the history of 20th century American Art. Born during the height of the Great Depression, Frey grew up on her family’s winery in Lodi, California. After relocating to the San Francisco Bay area, she attended the California College of Arts and Crafts where she worked alongside fellow students Peter Voulkos, Nora Eccles Treadwell (the namesake for the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art), and Robert Arneson.

After a brief stint in New York at The Clay Art Center, Frey returned to the Bay area where she became an influential member of the California Funk movement. Along with Arneson and Voulkos, Viola Frey redefined ceramics as a medium of fine art. In 1965, she returned to California College of Arts and Crafts to head the ceramics program. During her tenure, she designed and opened the Noni Eccles Treadwell Ceramic Arts Center.

This plate, like much of Frey’s work, directly engages ceramics history. Through her forms and surface decorations, Frey draws upon wide-ranging sources from ancient Greco-Roman ceramics to Picasso’s treatment of clay. Another theme found throughout Frey’s work is her engagement and commentary on the female form.

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