Legacy Artists are painters and sculptors who have entrusted their artwork, archives, and other assets to the Artists’ Legacy Foundation in perpetuity. Working with family members, estate planners, executors, and Foundation staff, artists build customized plans to ensure their work and archives are properly maintained, with easy access for scholars and galleries. Legacy Artists may also demonstrate a commitment to the next generation by designing awards or scholarships that reflect their interests.

As stewards of creative legacies, the Foundation takes care to maintain the names and reputations of its Legacy Artists by promoting artists’ visibility,  curating relevant and engaging exhibitions, and supporting new scholarship.


Viola Frey is the Foundation’s first Legacy Artist. Co-founders Squeak Carnwath and Gary Knecht have also promised their estates to the Foundation. Are you interested in the Legacy Artist Program? Here’s how it works:

  • Call or submit a letter of interest so we can learn more about you. The Foundation will want to understand the volume of work in your studio, your long-term goals, your family’s input, and the funds available to carry out your wishes.
  • The Foundation’s leadership carefully reviews your submission.
  • When board members vote to move forward, they will begin the process of building a legacy plan with you and any family members, estate administrators, attorneys, and others you would like to include in the process.
  • Once an agreement has been completed, you will add the Artists’ Legacy Foundation to your estate plan or will.


Using Viola Frey as a case study, we can illustrate the activities that may be involved in managing an artist’s estate.

Over the course of her five-decade career, Viola Frey produced an impressive body of artwork, including ceramic sculpture, bronze sculpture, paintings, and drawings, and explored the mediums of glass, wallpaper, and photography. Internationally respected—with works held in over seventy public collections—Frey was drawn to the expressive potential of clay and, along with her colleagues Robert Arneson and Peter Voulkos, instrumental in cracking the barrier between craft and fine art.

Prior to her death, Frey exhibited annually, traveled the world to expand her art practice, received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, taught thousands of students, guided the design and building of the Noni Eccles Treadwell Ceramic Arts Center on CCAC’s Oakland campus, was honored with an honorary doctorate from CCAC, and co-founded Artists’ Legacy Foundation.

Viola Frey’s estate included artworks, her home and its contents, stock portfolios, a savings account, and archival materials. Her archives included binders of slides and 4×5 transparencies, but she did not have an inventory system in place. The Foundation worked with her two galleries to combine their records with artworks from Frey’s slides, and compiled them in a dynamic database that serves as a collections management and research tool. The Director of Collections and Archives regularly updates collector information as works are sold at galleries or auctions, and she adds information about exhibitions and publications. Artworks going to exhibitions are photographed and, if needed, conserved or cleaned prior to display to ensure Frey’s work is seen in its intended form. The Foundation is careful to store artworks in safe and secure environments, including climate-controlled fine art storage for the most fragile artworks.

Since 2004, Viola Frey’s work has been displayed in over 116 exhibitions, including 14 solo exhibitions. Her work has been illustrated and written about in 294 publications, providing a deeper look at her role in 20th Century visual culture. The Foundation has loaned work, provided photographs, supported essays and printing costs, collaborated with curators, and much more. The Foundation actively promotes artworks, exhibitions and public programs via a newsletter and social media. The Foundation also created a website to share artworks, information, and educational resources. This comprehensive strategy has attracted the interest of scholars, art dealers and new collectors, so Frey’s work is continually being displayed in conversation with different contemporary artists.

Viola’s legacy extends beyond her artwork. To honor her work as an educator and community member, the Foundation regularly collaborates with the ceramics department at California College of Arts (formerly CCAC). By hosting social gatherings for visiting lecturers and educational sessions for students, the Artists’ Legacy Foundation reminds CCA students and faculty of Frey’s diverse body of work, and her penchant for socializing with colleagues outside of the studio. Frey’s community spirit is also echoed in the Artist Award, a $25,000 annual prize given to an outstanding painter or sculptor. Frey’s posthumous philanthropy encourages and celebrates a new generation of visual artists.

Learn more about Viola Frey’s art and life on her website,, or on Instagram at @violafreyarchives.

images, left to right: Squeak Carnwath’s studio, c. 1983. Squeak Carnwath’s studio, c. 2016. Viola Frey’s studio, c. 2000.