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November 17, 2003 // UPDATED 11:07 am - April 30, 2007
By: Kinda Koutsky
Kinda Koutsky

'Seated Man II' by Viola Frey Dain Rauscher Plaza, South 5th Street and NIcollet Mall

Fine arts careers are seldom launched amid prize-winning vegetables, tractor displays and pieced quilts. Yet the earliest known exhibited works of internationally acclaimed sculptor Viola Frey were shown at the California State Fair in the early 1960s.

Born in 1933 on a vineyard in the Northern California town of Lodi, Frey always knew she wanted to be an artist. As a child, she entered and won a competition at the Sacramento library with a drawing she copied from a Matisse painting. Although she loved his work, she realized at a young age that to be a true artist, she must create work that was uniquely hers. In college, she studied at California College of Arts and Crafts with painter Richard Deibenkorn. After a stint in New York, she returned to her home state of California, where she has lived since.

Frey's ceramics are not the usual decorative urns or pedestal pieces. Her towering figures are fired in many sections and when bolted together, often reaching over 8 feet tall. "Seated Man II" is one of her signature portraits of a man in a suit. The larger-than-life figure represents corporate America, while also depicting a humble worker. He sits on the floor coated in an expressionist explosion of color.

Frey's monumental sculptures have been shown in numerous exhibits, including the Smithsonian, American Craft Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Among her many honors, Frey has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships -- which, in the fine arts world, are the big "blue ribbons."