Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Artist of the Week: Eva Zeisel

Designer and ceramic artist Eva Zeisel passed away last week at the age of 105. Her design philosophy touted beauty and usefulness as equal components of pieces that she created for the masses. Zeisel studied painting at the Hungarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts, but soon abandoned that focus for what she considered to be a more practical course; apprenticing to the last living pottery master in the medieval guild system. She later worked in Germany, then Russia where eventually she was named the artistic director of the Russian China and Glass industry. In 1936 Zeisel was arrested in Moscow, falsely accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin. After being imprisoned for 16 months she was released and deported to Austria, without an explanation or apology. But it was when Zeisel moved to the United States in the early 1940s that her career and unique perspective really began to develop. She started designing for many major china and glassware companies throughout the US, and taught the first course in Ceramics for Industry at the Pratt Institute in New York. Then in 1946 she was given the first one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art: "Eva Zeisel: Designer for Industry" 

This Zeisel-designed table service known as Museum
was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in 1946.
Photo from

Her signature salt and pepper shakers look like a group of graceful gourds. 
Photo from

A cluster of curved vases. 
Photo from

This set of nesting bowls
 reminds me of this famous photo:
Milk Drop Coronet, 1937 by Howard Edgerton

Prototypes for modular ceramic wall dividers, 1958. 
Photo: Brent C. Brolin courtesy of Hill Wood Museum 

Zeisel's work is sensuous and elegant, while at the same time wholly casual and approachable. Her pieces have a humanistic quality to them, and are often created to be gathered together in settings that look almost familial in nature. Zeisel was incredibly prolific and passionate about her work, creating right until the end of her life. Now that's definitely how I'd like to go out. 

- Cathleen   

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