by Caitlin Cohn
Eva Zeisel, who was 105 when she died December 30, 2011, was one of the 20th century's most significant ceramics designers. Her work spanned over eighty years, starting from her very early twenties until the end of her life. Her aunt's pottery collection inspired her to become a ceramicist and she was the first woman to be a member of the Hungarian Guild of Chimney Sweeps, Oven Makers, Roof Tilers, Well Diggers, and Potters. Her second job was at an art-pottery studio, but she was not yet able to produce pots consistently enough to meet their standards so she left after six months. Although Zeisel initially did not succeed at throwing pottery, she eventually learned to work in porcelain, which is a particularly difficult material to work in because it is very soft and does not tend to hold a form well.
Zeisel's design process started with drawings on paper, followed by paper cut-outs and carving out shapes herself. In her book on Zeisel, Lucie Young quotes the designer: "Everything I do is a creation of my hands whether it is made in wood, plaster, or clay." In a TED Talk Zeisel described the goal of those who make things: "We are actually concerned with the playful search for beauty."
GMD has several Zeisel pieces, some of which were shown in the recent exhibition Polarities: Black and White in Design. These pieces belong to Zeisel's Museum collection and were commissioned by MoMA in the early 1940's. According to Young, Zeisel's disagreed with MoMA's ideology, which she found to be overly "puritan." The all-white set meets MoMA's stipulations, but also expresses Zeisel's sense of beauty.
"Eva Zeisel, Ceramic Artist and Designer Dies at 105" by William L. Hamilton, New York Times, 12-30-2011
Eva Zeisel, by Lucie Young
"Eva Zeisel on the Playful Search for Beauty, " Ted Talks, Filmed Feb 2001, Posted Dec 2008
Caitlin Cohn is Collections Assistant at GMD. She is a graduate student in the College of Design and is pursuing a PhD in Dress, History, and Culture.