Cloverware by Eva Zeisel

Groundbreaking Designs in Plastic

The present collection of Cloverware demonstrates the emergence of Eva Zeisel’s design ideology, what she described as "the playful search for beauty". Her goal with the series was twofold: to create "free, lively forms in plastic" and to introduce these newly developed acrylics as a suitable material for tableware.

Over time, the vision that Dinell and Zeisel saw in the materials became a reality and these rare early experimental works serve as important foundation for modern design.

During World War II, the Clover Plastics company made windshields for fighter planes and was looking for a new project when the war subsided. Zeisel and the company’s owner, Monroe L. Dinell, experimented with various methods and came up with a new production technique. The process involved several steps. First, Zeisel cut a shape out of plywood which would become the outline of the piece. Next, they laid a flat sheet of acrylic plastic on top of the plywood and warmed the plastic until it sagged. The shape was then formed using an air pump to pull the plastic from below. No molds were used. For the series, Zeisel created fifteen distinctly biomorphic shapes in three richly colored hues.

Zeisel and Dinell worked closely to understand the realities of this new technique. At the time of Cloverware’s debut in 1947, Zeisel saw limitless possibilities within the medium of plastic and went as far as to state, “It is our hope that the aesthetic qualities and the elegance inherent in plastics themselves will soon be appreciated, as they not are in beautiful piece of crystal.” Four works from the Cloverware series were included in the Useful Gifts exhibition at the Walker Art center in 1947. However, due to lack of demand, Clover Plastics discontinued production of the line by 1948. Over time, the vision that Dinell and Zeisel saw in the materials became a reality and these rare early experimental works serve as important foundation for modern design.

The present collection of Cloverware includes prototypes and highly rare works from the series that come from the personal collection of Monroe L. Dinell, owner of the Clover Box and Manufacturing Company, the parent company of Clover Plastics.

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.