Here it is February, and for the last month I've been meaning to write about my new-found heroine in the arts, Eva Striker Zeisel, who sad to say, departed from this world on December 30, 2011. Eva Zeisel was a master of modern design, yet I must confess I had never heard about her until I read her obituary. Ms. Zeisel, trained initially in the industrial arts, created every day objects that fundamentally changed the look of American kitchens and dining rooms. Her work was often described as "human, sensual, voluptuous", words not usually associated with tableware. She was quoted as saying "I search for beauty. I never wanted to do something grotesque. I never wanted to shock. I wanted my audience to be happy, to be kind." And that is the feeling I get from viewing her creations - they make me happy, they make me smile!
Born in Budapest in 1906, Ms. Zeisel led a long and colorful life, worthy of a screenplay. She began as a (first ever female) journeyman in the ceramics industry. After a series of increasingly evolved and respected positions in the design world, Ms. Zeisel eventually was hired as the artistic director of the Russian republic’s china and glass industry in Moscow in 1936. It was during this period that she was falsely accused of planning to assassinate Stalin. She was imprisoned for sixteen months, twelve of those months spent in solitary confinement where she feared for her life. She endured torture and brainwashing, and at one point attempted suicide. She was unexpectedly released in 1937, and by 1938 had made her way to Britain where she married Hans Zeisel. Late that same year they emigrated to New York (with a total of $64 between them) where Ms. Zeisel's extraordinary talents would soon be recognized. She was the first female designer to have work honored in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and many commissions and design opportunities soon followed. In spite of her "dark years" and stressful life challenges, Ms. Zeisel's work remained playful and sunny, eccentric and biomorphic. After the birth of her children John and Jean, her creations became imbued with a feeling of nurturing and togetherness, a tribute to the family. Very appropriate for tableware, I must say! She once stated, "All of my work is mother-and-child”. She remained productive right up to her death at age 105, acquiring honors for outstanding achievements in design. For more information and links, you can read her obituary here.
Photo credits: (1) The Washington Post, (2) The British Museum, (3) The Museum of Modern Art,
(4) Berkshirefinearts.com, (5) designlinesltd.com, (6) design2share.com