Sadly, Eva Zeisel, the prolific ceramics artist and industrial designer whose career spanned over 60 years died on December 30th in New York City. She was 105 years old! And she was still working!!! That is amazing to me… and incredibly inspiring.
I first became familiar with Zeisel after seeing a piece of hers beautifully displayed in a Sneak Peek on Design*Sponge. I immediately Google’d her, and subsequently fell in love. Her work is simple, elegant, and incredibly functional. She can be quoted as saying, “What good is a beautiful piece, if you can’t use it?” Right on, Eva!
Eva Zeisel Classic Century Dinnerware updated designs for Crate and Barrel.
Zeisel was born Eva Striker in Budapest, Hungary in 1909. Her family was highly educated. Laura Striker, her mother, was the first woman to earn a PhD from the University of Budapest. I guess trailblazing ran in the family! Zeisel was always artistically inclined, and she entered the Hungarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts when she was 17. After an apprenticeship with a pottery master, she began working for a German ceramics manufacturer in 1928.
In 1932, while living and working in Russia, Zeisel was arrested and imprisoned for 16 months after being falsely accused of plotting to kill Stalin. For 12 months of her sentence, she was kept in solitary confinement. Whoa.
Mugshot taken of Eva Zeisel before being sent to Leningrad prison
Zeisel speaks candidly of her experience in Prison Memoir, an auto-biographical account that was published last year in issue 14 of the independent art and literary magazine, A Public Space.
“It had a great feeling of unreality. I mean, I was a designer of china; I was not in the business of killing Stalin. Imagine yourself!”
Shortly after getting out of prison in 1937, she married Hans Zeisel, and the two came to America with only $67 in their pockets. It was here that Eva’s career began to flourish. She designed popular lines for the Hall, Castleton, and Rosenthal China companies, among others. Zeisel was also the first to create and teach the Ceramics for Industry course at the Pratt Institute.
Close-up detail of a dish that Zeisel designed for the Buckingham collection from Hall China Company. Photo from Visualingual blog.
After a taking a hiatus throughout the 60s and 70s, Zeisel went back to work in the 80s, and didn’t stop. Most recently, her design work expanded to include rugs, housewares, and furniture.
If you would like to know more about the extraordinary life and career of Eva Zeisel, there are books and a documentary DVD available on the Eva Zeisel Originals website. She’s even got her own medallion!!! Take that, Stalin!
I hope you have enjoyed my little tribute. Let me know your thoughts. Lots of people get weak-in-the-knees for Eva Zeisel. For example, Todd Oldham:
And the folks over at CBS Sunday Morning:
Also, there was a nice obituary in The New York Times, as well as a memorial feature on NPR.