Design  8 December 2016

Eva Zeisel

Works from the Artist's Personal Collection

Throughout her eighty year career, Eva Zeisel (1906-2011) created works that defined her vision of modern design. As tangible objects of beauty, her designs transform with interaction. They are intended to be held and touched as well as to delight the eye. They are works of sculpture in addition to being functional. Her timeless, classic designs are in the collections of major museums worldwide, including the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Zeisel's mantra was "the playful search for beauty". She wrote that "For every use and every production process there are equally attractive solutions". Zeisel is considered one of the major designers of the 20th and 21st centuries and is often mentioned alongside midcentury visionaries such as Alvar Aalto, Ray and Charles Eames, and Russel Wright.

Born in Hungary, Zeisel began as a painter, but soon turned to pottery in order to support herself. After an apprenticeship in the potter's guild, she worked in the commercial design world, which at the time was primarily dominated by men. She went on to design for factories in many countries in Europe, including Germany and Russia as well as in the United States. Although Eva never called herself an artist, she referred to herself as “a maker of things”, her designs have a deeply individual, sensual aesthetic which is uniquely her own.

The rare works offered here are from Eva Zeisel's own personal collection and showcase some of her earliest and momentous collaborations with noted firms in Germany and the United States. These daring modern designs are a richly personal snapshot into Zeisel's many extraordinary achievements.

Eva Zeisel 1906–2011

Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1906, Éva Amália Zeisel (née Striker) transformed American tables with her beautiful and often biomorphic ceramic creations. Zeisel began her study of art by enrolling in the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Budapest for painting. However, Zeisel was soon inspired by the pottery creations of an aunt, and dropped out of the Royal Academy to devote herself to ceramics. In 1925, Zeisel traveled to Paris to see the groundbreaking International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, where she viewed the work of emerging modernists like Le Corbusier, Pierre Chareau, and Robert Mallet-Stevens. Zeisel turned away from the rigid geometry of these designers, which she found too cold and unfeeling, and instead embraced the warmth of sweeping curves in her own work. Zeisel immigrated to the United States in 1939, where she taught at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.  In 1940, she teamed up with the Museum of Modern Art in New York to create a line of dinnerware that was “the first translucent china dinnerware, modern in shape, to be produced in the United States.” Although the Museum line wasn’t finished until 1946, it was included in an exhibition of her work—the first-ever museum show for a solo female designer—at the MoMA that same year. Zeisel’s success caught the attention of Red Wing Pottery and she collaborated with them to create her famed Town and Country line of ceramics in 1947. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Zeisel took a hiatus from design to focus on writing. In 1984, the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts honored Zeisel with a retrospective of her work entitled Eva Zeisel On Design. In 2005, she won the lifetime achievement award in design from the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum. Eva Zeisel passed away at the age of 105 in 2011. Her work is held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among many others.  

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