Katherine Po-yu Choy (1927–58) was born into an affluent merchant family in Hong Kong. In 1946 Katherine Choy left her childhood home in Shanghai to study in the United States, earning degrees from Mills College in Oakland, California, where she was introduced to ceramics at the school known to foster an experimental environment in clay.

In 1952 Katherine Choy, by then a 24-year-old rising star of American craft, became director of ceramics at Newcomb College. Katherine Choy is remembered among national craft audiences for her 1957 founding of the Clay Art Center in Port Chester, New York, which still operates in her honor fostering a community around the practice of ceramic arts.

Choy’s early pots show inspiration from Asian clay traditions, as was popular among American potters in the 1950s. She mastered classic forms, applied calligraphy-like brushwork, and developed lush glazes sometimes with the help of her family, who sent ingredients from China. However, Katherine Choy increasingly expanded from those clay traditions. The jagged, painterly vessels that Choy made the last two years of her life were as artistically advanced as any made elsewhere in the 1950s United States. A considered departure from the refinement of her training, her pots sprouted additional necks, could be aggressively large or asymmetrical, and had glazes that intentionally left parts of the raw clay exposed for all to see. Her Modern pottery conveyed—in a new idea from the world of painting—that ceramics, too, could be a canvas for emotional expression.

The accompanying exhibition catalogue looks comprehensively at Katherine Choy’s biography, her network of teachers, students, and colleagues, her award-winning ceramics, and her merging of artistic expression with handcraft in the mid-1950s. The catalogue leans heavily on period sources to substantiate the first monograph of the short but fervent life of a promising cross-disciplinarian artist gone too soon, but having already asserted her singular voice in changing what expressive ceramics would contribute to the art world.


Katherine Choy: Radical Potter in 1950s New Orleans was curated by RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts Mel Buchanan with Winston Ho and is supported by the Elise M. Besthoff Charitable Foundation, George Dunbar, and Charles L. Whited, Jr. Special thanks to the artist’s family, Reena Kashyap and the Clay Art Center, and the Newcomb Art Museum.

Double Spout Vase

1952–57

Katherine Choy

Gift of Evelyn Witherspoon

Katherine Choy at a Kiln in New Orleans

1952–53

Jack Robinson

Photograph

Photo courtesy www.robinsonarchive.com

Vase

1952–57

Katherine Choy

Stoneware

Height: 19 inches

Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, New Orleans. Photo by Rachel Watson

Scarf

1952–57

Katherine Choy

Woven wool, metalic threads

20 x 50 inches

Collection of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, New Orleans. Photo by Rachel Watson

Installation view of The Katherine Choy Memorial Show at the Orleans Gallery

1959

Katherine Choy

Photo by Stuart Lynn

Katherine Choy in the French Quarter

c. 1953

Victor Olivier Jr.

Gelatin silver print

8 3/4 x 7 1/2 inches

Museum transfer, 2021.18