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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Eva Zeisel, Hungarian-born American ceramic artist and designer, died she was 105.

Eva Striker Zeisel[2] was a Hungarian-born American industrial designer known for her work with ceramics, primarily from the period after she immigrated to the United States died she was 105.. Her forms are often abstractions of the natural world and human relationships.[4] Work from throughout her prodigious career is included in important museum collections across the world. Zeisel declared herself a "maker of useful things".[4]

(born Éva Amália Striker,[3] November 13, 1906 – December 30, 2011)

Early life and family

She was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1906[5] to a wealthy, highly educated assimilated Jewish family. Her mother, Laura Polanyi Striker, a historian, was the first woman to get a PhD from the University of Budapest. Laura's work on Captain John Smith's adventures in Hungary added fundamentally to our understanding and appreciation of his reliability as a narrator. Laura's brothers, Karl Polanyi, the sociologist and economist, and Michael Polanyi, the physical chemist and philosopher of science, are also very well known.[6] Despite her family's intellectual prominence in the field of science, Eva Striker always felt a deep attraction towards art. At 17, Zeisel entered Budapest's Magyar Képzőművészeti Akadémia (Hungarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts)[7] as a painter.[5] However, to support her painting, she eventually decided to pursue a more practical profession and apprenticed herself to Jakob Karapancsik, the last pottery master in the medieval guild system. From him she learned ceramics from the ground up. After graduating as a journeyman she found work with German ceramic manufacturers.[5]

Early career, imprisonment, and emigration

In 1928 Eva Striker became the designer for the Schramberger Majolikafabrik in the Black Forest region of Germany where she worked for about two years creating many playfully geometric designs for dinnerware, tea sets, vases, inkwells and other ceramic items. Her designs at Schramberg were largely influenced by modern architecture. In addition, she had just learned to draft with compass and ruler and was proud to put them to use. In 1930, Eva moved to Berlin, designing for the Carstens factories.
After almost two years of a glamorous life among intellectuals and artists in decadent Berlin, Eva decided to visit Russia at the age of 26 (1932).[5] She stayed for 5 years.
At the age of 29, after several jobs in the Russian ceramics industry—inspecting factories in the Ukraine as well as designing for the Lomonosov[5] and Dulevo factories —Zeisel was named artistic director of the Russian China and Glass industry. On May 26, 1936, while living in Moscow, Zeisel was arrested. She had been falsely accused of participating in an assassination plot against Joseph Stalin.[5] She was held in prison for 16 months, 12 of which were spent in solitary confinement.[4] In September, 1937, Zeisel was expelled and deported to Vienna, Austria. Some of her prison experiences form the basis for Darkness at Noon, the well known anti-Stalinist novel written by a childhood friend, Arthur Koestler.[5] It was while in Vienna that Zeisel re-established contact with her future husband Hans Zeisel, later a noted legal scholar, statistician, and professor at The University of Chicago. A few months after her arrival in Vienna the Nazis invaded, and Eva took the last train out. She and Hans met up in England where they married and sailed for the U.S. with $67 between them.

Later career to present day

Zeisel's career in design continued to develop in the United States. In addition to designing for companies such as Hall China, Rosenthal China, Castleton China, Western Stoneware, Federal Glass, Heisey Glass and Red Wing Pottery, Zeisel developed and taught the first course in Ceramics for Industry at the Pratt Institute in New York.[5] In 1946, Zeisel was given her first one-woman show "Eva Zeisel: Designer for Industry", at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Zeisel stopped designing during the 1960s and 1970s, to work on American history writing projects, returning to work in the 1980s.[8] Many of her recent designs have found the same success as her earlier designs. Zeisel’s recent designs have included porcelain, crystal and limited-edition prints for KleinReid, glasses and giftware for Nambé, a teakettle for Chantal, furniture and gift-ware for Eva Zeisel Originals, rugs for The Rug Company, one of Crate and Barrel’s best selling dinner services "Classic-Century" and a coffee table and stoneware / dinnerware set for Design Within Reach,.[9] "Classic-Century" is an updated version of the Hallcraft sets, most of the pieces made from the original molds (dishwasher safe).
In addition, a bone china tea set, designed in 2000, is being manufactured by the Lomonosov Porcelain factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, her new designs for a line of glass lamps (pendant, wall and table lamps) was introduced in 2012 by Leucos USA, and in 2013 her designs for dimensional wall tiles and space dividers will be launched by Cumulus Design Group.
Eva released two designs in 2010 through Eva Zeisel Lounge Chair and Eva Zeisel Salt & Pepper Shakers. The Lounge Chair was featured in the February 2010 issue of O Magazine and The S&P shakers were featured in the April 2010 issues of O Magazine.
Reproduction of earlier designs have been sold at MoMa, Brooklyn Museum and Neue Gallery, as well as other museum gift shops.
Eva Zeisel’s designs are made for use. The inspiration for her sensuous forms often comes from the curves of the human body. Zeisel’s more organic approach to modernism most likely comes as a reaction to the Bauhaus aesthetics that were popular at the time of her early training. Her sense of form and color, as well as her use of bird themes, show influence from the Hungarian folk arts she grew up with.[9] Most of Zeisel’s designs, whether in wood, metal, glass, plastic or ceramics, are designed in family groups. Many of her designs nest together creating modular designs that also function to save space.
Zeisel describes her designs in a New York Sun article: “I don’t create angular things. I’m a more circular person—it’s more my character….even the air between my hands is round.” [10]
Among her most collected shapes are the eccentric, biomorphic "Town and Country" dishes, produced by Red Wing Pottery, in 1947.[11] This set includes the iconic "mother and child" salt and pepper shakers.

Personal life

Eva raised two children with Hans: son, John Zeisel and daughter, Jean Richards. Jean, was born in 1940 and John was born in 1944. In the documentary Throwing Curves: Eva Zeisel, John and Jean comment on their parents' tempestuous relationship in the 1940s and 50s when the children were young. In the film John claims, that both Hans and Eva had dominant personalities, and that this often led to "a collision of forcefields".[12]

Museums and exhibitions

Zeisel’s works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum; Brooklyn Museum; New-York Historical Society, Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the British Museum;The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Bröhan Museum, Germany; as well as Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Milwaukee museums and others in the US and abroad.
In the 1980s a 50 year retrospective exhibit of her work organized by Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Smithsonian Institution traveled through the US, Europe and Russia. In 2004, a significant retrospective exhibition "Eva Zeisel: The Playful Search for Beauty" was organized by the Knoxville Museum of Art, which subsequently traveled to the Milwaukee Art Museum, the High Museum, Atlanta, and the Hillwood Museum & Gardens, Washington D.C.
On December 10, 2006, The Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego, opened a major centenary retrospective exhibit "Eva Zeisel: Extraordinary Designer at 100", showing her designs from Schramberg (1928) through to current designs for Nambe, Chantal, Eva Zeisel Originals and others (2006). The show ran through August 12, 2007. In the same year, the Pratt Institute Gallery also organized an Exhibition celebrating her centenary.


In 2005, Zeisel won the Lifetime Achievement award from the Cooper-Hewett National Design Museum.[13] She has also received the two highest civilian awards from the Hungarian government, as well as the Pratt Legends award and awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America and Alfred University. She is an honorary member of the Royal Society of Industrial Designers, and has received honorary degrees from Parsons (New School), Rhode Island School of Design, the Royal College of Art, and the Hungarian University of the Arts.


  • Eva Zeisel on Design by Eva Zeisel, Overlook Press 2004
  • Eva Zeisel: The Playful Search for Beauty by Lucie Young, Chronicle Books 2003
  • Eva Zeisel, Designer for Industry, 1984. (Out of print. Available through EvaZeiselForum)
  • Eva Zeisel: Throwing Curves 2002 (documentary film, Canobie Films, Director: Jyll Johnstone
  • Regular Bulletins from EvaZeiselForum
  • Available as enhanced iBook (iPad, iPhone, iPod: including photos, audio and video); also for Kindle: Eva Zeisel: A Soviet Prison Memoir."

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