Viola Frey (American, 1933–2004), a painter and sculptor, was born and raised in Lodi, CA, where her family maintained a vineyard of zinfandel grapes. In her younger years, Frey often browsed art books from the local library and created watercolor pictures. She also depicted her friends and neighbors in drawings and oil paintings, which she would sell for 25 cents. At the age of 11, Frey was entered into a drawing show at the Sacramento Library for her copy of a drawing by Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954), a leader in the Fauvism movement and a painter she loved. Although this was a success for the young Frey, she then realized that she should draw in her own style instead of someone else's.
After graduating from high school, she was accepted to UC Berkeley, where she intended to become a writer. Frey wanted to attend Berkeley because it was a respectable school; however, because she felt that it was not a good fit for her, she instead attended Stockton College in California. Frey went on to study with a scholarship at the California College of Arts and Crafts, where she graduated in 1956 with a BFA in Fine Arts. In New Orleans, LA, two years later, she earned her MFA in Fine Arts from Tulane University, where she studied under Mark Rothko (Russian-American, 1903–1970), an Abstract Expressionist painter, and George Rickey (American, 1907–2002), a sculptor.
Frey primarily focused on ceramics, but applied glaze in the style of Abstract painters and incorporated knickknacks into the molds, making her work an original and defining addition to Modern Art. In the early 1960s, Frey continued to create sculptures and paintings while working as a billing clerk at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY. She returned to California in the mid-1960s, and taught ceramic arts at the California College of Arts and Crafts.
Frey's work has been displayed in both solo and group exhibitions in museums and galleries across the country and overseas, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, The Butler Institute of American Art in Ohio, and The Museum of Ceramic Art in Japan. Her notable works include the collection Viola Frey: Plates 1968–1994, which was exhibited on a countrywide tour, and the collection Larger than Life: Ceramic Figures by Viola Frey, which included colorful sculptures of nine-foot-tall men and women in a cartoonish style. Other pieces from Frey include Focus on the Figure and Relationships/Interrelationships, both of which she completed later in her life. Frey died in her home in Oakland, CA, at the age of 70.