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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eva Zeisel

Ceramics designer Eva Zeisel (1906-) began a prolific career in her late teens and continues to create innovative pieces even today. She was born in Budapest and pursued a career in painting, studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, but left in search of a more craft-oriented trade. She was apprenticed to a ceramist and soon became one of the first female journeyman potters.

In 1932 Zeisel moved to Russia, drawn by the folk art and the peasant customs that still thrived there. She was forced to leave by the increasingly hostile attitudes towards foreigners. In 1938 she moved to England and married Hans Zeisel. The couple immigrated to the United States in late 1938. One of Zeisel's first commissions in America was designing giftware for the Bay Ridge Specialty Company. When she started teaching at Pratt in 1939, a position she held until 1953, she arranged an innovative apprenticeship for her students through Bay Ridge, offering them a unique opportunity to gain professional experience.

In 1942, after the MoMA's Organic Design in Home Furnishings exhibit, the Castleton Company asked the museum to find a ceramist who could design a series that would define a new era of modern china. Zeisel was chosen, and her 1946 Museum series was unveiled. She followed this line with the colorful and playful 1946 Town and Country dinnerware for Red Wing Pottery (shown in my October 26 post). Another acclaimed series was Tomorrow's Classic for Charles Seliger.

Zeisel retired from mass-produced commercial design in the mid 1960s. She kept creating her own work, however, and celebrated her 100th birthday by designing her first teapot for Chantal of Texas in 2006. Asked about her continued work, she said, “My new designs reflect, as always, my playful search for beauty.” And she adamantly refuses to say she's "still working," which she thinks implies what she's doing is unusual. According to Zeisel, she's just doing what she's always done...being a "maker of things."

From and

Museum pattern

Tomorrow's Classic

Baby oil pourer


Town and Country


Duck tea set

Chantal kettle
designed to celebrate her 100th birthday

Update: Eva Zeisel died in 2011 at the age of 105. At the time this post was written, she was still alive.

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