Canton Museum of Art Acquires New Ceramic Sculpture by Viola Frey

Canton Museum of Art Acquires New Ceramic Sculpture by Viola Frey

Adding to its prestigious collection of American ceramic works, Executive Director Max Barton announced today that the Canton Museum of Art (CMA) has acquired an exquisite ceramic sculpture by internationally renowned artist Viola Frey. "Untitled Pot Bellied Fireman," named for the prominent fireman figure in the bricolage, was purchased by the Museum earlier this month after it was made available through the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York. The new piece is currently on display in the CMA lobby.

"For the last several years, we have been working to bolster the ceramic side of our Permanent Collection, which includes, among others, acclaimed pieces by Toshiko Takaezu, Viktor Schreckengost, and Frey contemporary, Peter Voulkos," said Barton. "Among the top of our wish list was to add a Frey sculptural work into the collection. The opportunity presented itself, and after careful review our Collections Management Committee secured this amazing piece."

This exciting new acquisition was purchased in honor of Raymond & Rossetta Wilkof, recognizing their support of the Canton Museum of Art and the Stark County community. "The Wilkofs have been wonderful patrons of the Museum and other cultural organizations throughout our great community," said Barton. "Rossetta is a former Museum Docent [for tour groups]. I think she will love the stories surrounding this new piece."

Three works by Viola Frey were featured in the Museum's Fall 2015 opening exhibition, "Beyond Craft," a national touring show from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. CMA was one of only three venues to showcase this acclaimed collection of decorative arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection, which in addition to Frey, featured major ceramic works by Voulkos, Takaezu, Robert Arneson, Ken Ferguson, and Adrian Saxe.

In "Untitled Pot Bellied Fireman," Viola Frey's wry sense of humor is explored through intense abstractions. Measuring 25 x 18 x 12 inches, the piece is comprised of slip cast glazed elements that the artist saw fit to juxtapose and combine: the dominant figure in the piece is an "every man" in a blue power suit observing a whimsical scene; Frey references heroes of contemporary culture with a "kitsch" fireman and a "toy" football player; she portrays childhood with an Alice in Wonderland figure and a Raggedy Ann doll holding a horse. The horse for Frey, and in many cultures, is the symbol of abundance. An elephant, another favorite symbol, references democracy. The glazing in this work is restrained and in Frey's best painting mode, eschewing a wide palette for a focus on blue and yellow with a touch of orange-all signature Frey colors.

Viola Frey was born in 1933 in Lodi, California, and died in Oakland, California, in 2004. She is well known for her large, colorfully glazed clay sculptures of men and women, which expanded the traditional boundaries of ceramic sculpture. Frey was one of a number of California artists working in clay in the 1950s and 60s who turned away from that medium's conventions to produce works with robust sculptural qualities associated with Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and what would come to be known as the California Funk movement. Bright colors and heavily textured surfaces are integral to Frey's work. While some of her art is highly autobiographical in nature, her large figures deal with universal themes of social interaction in a complex world.

Frey's work is held in numerous museum and private collections around the world, including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Seattle Museum of Art; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Victoria and Albert Museum in London; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Ontario; and many more.

About the CMA Permanent Collection
The Canton Museum of Art's Permanent Collection is comprised of nearly 1,300 objects, focused on American works on paper from the 19th century forward-primarily watercolors-and contemporary ceramics from the 1950s forward. Valued at nearly $25 million, the Permanent Collection is showcased in four to five changing exhibitions throughout the year, with about five percent on display at any time. Among the celebrated artists represented are: Winslow Homer, Andy Warhol, Clyde Singer, Andrew Wyeth, John Singer Sargent, Toshiko Takaezu, Ken Ferguson, and many others.

"Our collection represents the treasures of our museum-of our community. Part of our mission is to build an exceptional collection of art that showcases American contemporary ceramics and watercolors," said Barton. "Our collection ranks among the finest and most select in the state, with pieces in constant demand for exhibitions at other museums across the country. Through our Collections Management Committee, we evaluate, acquire, and occasionally remove works from the Permanent Collection. We are in the process of re-digitizing each piece in our collection and making them available in a new searchable gallery on the CMA website."