Art New England | January/February 2024 issue
Radical Pots & Cooperative Hands: Katherine Choy and Clay Art Center is an exhibition that showcases the work of an incredible artist, as well as the stalwart community that she helped build. Katherine Choy first came to America from China to attend college in 1946. By 1952, she had obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees and became the head of the ceramics department at the Newcomb College at Tulane University. In 1957, she came into contact with Japanese-American potter Henry Okamoto, and soon after they founded Clay Art Center in Port Chester, NY. Tragically, Choy died of pneumonia at age thirty only one year later in 1958. Despite this hardship, Okamoto, the Port Chester community, and surrounding areas fought to keep Clay Art Center alive, and the nonprofit is a staple of the local arts community to this day. Okamoto not only saved Clay Art Center after Choy’s untimely passing, he and the Clay Art Center staff also saved her work, notes, and her correspondence with Okamoto when the two were making plans for the Center. Many of these historical objects, including business documents, photographs and personal letters are on display alongside ceramic works by both Choy and Okamoto.
Choy’s ceramics are elegant, with great care shown towards delicate forms and complex glazing techniques, which were some of her specialties. Samples of Choy’s notes on and experiments with glazes are also on display. Around the time of her death, Choy was beginning to work on a larger scale as her pieces moved away from the functional and towards the purely aesthetic and sculptural. “They show that she’s trying to play around with surface and texture and thinking about basically making art that comments on its form and making,” remarked curator Maggie Dimock. Choy was talented and extremely prolific, as well. In the year she lived and worked in Port Chester alone, she created more than 200 pieces. Greenwich Historical Society, with the help of Clay Art Center and other community partners, honors the legacy of a brilliant potter lost before her time and those who have kept that legacy alive for more than sixty years. – Autumn Duke