Have Tea," a sculpture by Pepsy Kettavong '95, center, provides
a unique look at Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.
Cast in bronze, suffragist Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick
Douglass share a pot of tea in a Rochester park near Anthony's long-time
Sculptor Pepsy Kettavong '95 captured these historical giants in their
youth, engaged in lively conversation. Approachable. Accessible to 21st-century
"Our idea was to utilize history to get people involved,"
says the artist. "It's a social statement. A black man and a white
woman are drinking tea together. A Laotian makes their sculpture. It
could be a metaphor for American democracy."
Kettavong escaped Communist-controlled Laos with his family in 1980,
when he was 8. After nearly two years in a Thai refugee camp, the family
came to the Rochester area under the sponsorship of the Lakeville United
Church of Christ. His childhood interest in making things out of clay
led him to RIT, where he worked closely with Professor Richard Hirsch
in the School for American Crafts.
"I came to understand the creative process and what enters into
the field, what it takes to be successful," says Kettavong. "Hirsch
teaches what he believes, and believes what he teaches."
After graduation, the young artist became studio manager for the prominent
ceramics sculptor Jun Kaneko in Nebraska.
After two years, he was ready to move on. Kettavong stayed in Nebraska,
doing odd jobs while pursuing his own ideas about art, ultimately taking
a job as a designer at a ceramic tile company where he could build his
own pieces after hours.
A 1997 show in Omaha of his large-scale, abstract, ceramic-and-wood
pieces resulted in major sales and a big boost for his career. Kettavong
returned to Rochester where he's stayed busy with public and private
The Anthony-Douglass sculpture, funded by corporations, private donors,
foundations and the Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester,
was in the works for about three years. It's realistic, a style Kettavong
felt was correct for this project. His next major public work will be
Whether abstract or realistic, "my intent is to communicate,"
says Kettavong. "The one thing I don't want is to be categorized."