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Tribute to Eva Zeisel

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February 2012
Hoping you had a special Valentine's Day
and 2012 is going well.

It's a sentimental time of year for me.
My article today reflects on the legacy left by Eva Zeisel who passed away recently at 105. She is pictured here with me at an event a few years ago.  Eva preferred to be called a "maker of things", a potter, whose career as an industrial designer lasted throughout her life.

Eva Zeisel 

A Tribute to Eva Zeisel

Am not sure why I have such a strong connection to the wonderful "maker of things" who recently died at the age of 105. Her spirit, the combination of complexity and simplicity attracts me. Her joy in producing pleasurable, organic, and functional forms engages me. Her physical resemblance to my late mother Evelyn was uncanny. My mother was also a "maker of things"...not of pots, but of meals, and a warm, homey atmosphere for her family and friends of family.  


I never owned a piece of Eva's ceramics. But, somehow, I knew about her and her work. I had a chance to meet her a few years ago when she was honored at a gala for the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. The event, a fundraiser for the Education Foundation of IFDA (International Furnishings and Design Association) awarded the MAD, formerly known as the American Craft Museum, with its Big Apple Award for Design.

At that time at 103, Eva Zeisel remained active in the world of design, lending her eye for form and technical expertise to contemporary potters and manufacturers. Her recent works include designs for KleinReid (Mr. Klein and Mr. Reid spoke at her tribute), and Crate & Barrel in the U.S. and firms throughout the world.

Zeisel Pots 


Now, after Eva's her passing at age 105, I was invited to attend a tribute to her life given by Bill Moggridge, Director of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. The program began with Bill's introduction to a video of Eva filmed at the age of 94. She spoke of her beginnings as a potter in Europe within a guild system that took her from the very basics of potting to opportunities to produce fine porcelain, and eventually the freedom to explore "everyday eloquence" in china.

Jed Powell, art critic who worked for Eva in his youth, spoke of the ideals that motivated her, among them the importance of play in creation. She considered the making of china a democratic art. Her imagination considered both the past and the freedom to go forward. She believed that simplicity and ornamentation could co-exist and that we should not look to creating perfection.


About Eva's life:


Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1906, she began her training at age 17 in traditional pottery techniques. She then moved to Germany where she acquired skills in all phases of industrial production and became one of the first to move the ceramic arts into contemporary mass production, creating beautiful useful objects for everyday living. Later after traveling in Russia she was imprisoned in solitary confinement having been accused of plotting to kill Stalin. She was released to Austria which was soon to be merged with Nazi Germany. Luckily she was able to get to England where she married Hans Zeisel who had waited for her for eight years. In 1938 they went to New York where they settled permanently.  


In 1939 she created the Department of Ceramic Arts and Industrial Design at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, where she taught until 1952. Among her many awards was the 2005 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement.


Eva, maker of things, I salute you!







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