Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eva Zeisel

Eva Zeisel (born in Hungary, November 13, 1906) is a ceramist and an industrial designer. Zeisel declares herself “a maker of useful things.” Ziesel’s career spans over seventy years. Her work pioneered modernism into the home. Her forms are often abstractions of the natural world. Zeisel currently resides in New York where continues to design furniture as well as glass and ceramic objects.


Eva Zeisel (nee Eva Amalia Striker) was born into a wealthy Budapest family. At 17, Zeisel entered Kepzomuveszeti Academia (the Budapest Royal Academy of Fine Arts). She left the academy in 1925 to work with a potter in Budapest learning to design and make ceramic objects. For ten years Zeisel employed herself as an apprentice, then a journeyman in a guild. In 1928 she went to work at the Schramberg factory in Germany where Zeisel became one of the earliest designers of mass-produced contemporary ceramics.

In 1932, Zeisel moved to the Soviet Union. In 1935, at the age of 29, after working several jobs in the ceramic industry--inspecting factories in the Ukrane as well as designing for the Lomonosov factory—Zeisel was named the artistic director of the Soviet ceramics industry.

It was only a year later, in 1936, while living in Moscow Zeisel was accused of participating in an assassination plot against Stalin. Zeisel was arrested and held in prison for 16 months, 12 of which were spent in solitary confinement. Zeisel was released and deported to Vienna. It was while in Vienna that Zeisel met her husband Hans Zeisel. In 1938, shortly after her arrival and marriage, the Nazis invaded Vienna encouraging the couple to move to New York with only $64.00 to their name.

Zeisel’s career in design continued to develop in the United States. In addition to designing for companies such as General Mills, Rosenthal China, Castelton China, Zeisel taught one of the first courses in industrial design at the Pratt Institute in New York. In 1946, Zeisel had the first one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Zeisel stopped designing for industry during the 1960’s and 1970’s, returning to work in the 1980’s. Many of her recent designs have found the same success as her earlier designs. Zeisel’s recent designs have included a teakettle for Chantal, glasses for Nambe, a sink and bathtub for Signature, ceramics for KleinReid as well as the designer of one of Crate and Barrel’s best selling dinner services.

Zeisel’s works are in the permanent collections of Brohan Museum, Germany; the British Museum; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Musée des Arts Decoratifs de Montreal; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, Dallas, Knoxville, Milwaukee. In 2005, Zeisel was awarded the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Eva Zeisel’s designs are made for use. The inspiration for her sensuous forms often comes from the natural organic curves of the body, taking advantage of the softness of clay. Zeisel’s more organic approach to modernism most likely comes as a reaction to the Bauhaus aesthetics that were popular at the time of her early training. Her sense of form and color show influence from the Hungarian folk arts she grew up seeing. All of Zeisel’s designs, whether it be her furniture, metal, glass or ceramic, are often made in sets or in relationship to other objects. Many of Zeisel’s designs nest together creating modular designs that also function to save space.

Zeisel describes her designs in a New York Sun article: “I don’t create angular things. I’m a more circular person—it’s more my character….even the air between my hands is round.”

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