Eva Zeisel: A comprehensive online guide

eva zeisel… Novelty is a concept of commerce, not an aesthetic concept…

Eva Zeisel, an iconic designer whose ceramic dinnerware and giftware was part of transforming design in midcentury America, died on Dec. 30, 2011. What an amazing woman. She lived to just past 105 — and worked throughout.  I have been spending time immersing myself in reading about her life and designs, and the combination of joy + intelligence shines through. On this lengthy tribute, I have gathered all the best media — videos, articles, books — as well as Eva Zeisel products still available today — onto this one page.

One of my key takeaways from my research: Eva Zeisel refused to be held hostage by any philosophical design “movements”. In fact, she rejected the square lines and geometrical tyranny of the midcentury modernists — saying instead that designers should ignore any so-called common wisdom, and do the work that speak to their hearts. Or moreover: To their hands, given that she was a potter. She also said she loved rounded lines — the “S curve” — because she herself was a little bit… chubby. What a lovely woman. What a pip!

Read on for my comprehensive online guide to the life, work and products still available today of Eva Zeisel.

To start, from the New York Times’ obituary:

Ms. Zeisel (pronounced ZY-sel), along with designers like Mary and Russel Wright and Charles and Ray Eames, brought the clean, casual shapes of modernist design into middle-class American homes with furnishings that encouraged a postwar desire for fresh, less formal styles of living.

“Museum,” the porcelain table service that brought Ms. Zeisel national notice, was commissioned by its manufacturer, Castleton China, in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which introduced it in an exhibition in 1946, its first show devoted to a female designer.

Ms. Zeisel’s work, which ultimately spanned nine decades, was at the heart of what the museum promoted as “good design”: domestic objects that were beautiful as well as useful and whose beauty lent pleasure to daily life.

Eva Zeisel salt and pepper shakers, 1954

From the archives of Eva Zeisel Originals — reproductions in solid black and white still available today

The Smithsonian Museum has a page featuring some early Eva Zeisel pottery.

Videos

Above: A five-minute video about Eva designing at age 93. This is STUNNING. JUST STUNNING!

Above: A TERRIFIC video of Eva speaking at a TED conference a few years ago. A quote:

The playful search for beauty was man’s first activity… all useful qualities and all material qualities were developed from the playful search for beauty… The word playful is a necessary aspect of our work, we have to make, produce lovely things throughout all of life.. and this for me is now 75 years….

… I used my work to fuel my curiosity…


Above: In 2002, filmaker Jyll Johnstone made what looks to be a comprehensive documentary about Zeisel’s life: Throwing Curves — Eva Zeisel. Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s an hour long. Here’s a description… and you can buy it here.

… People like us were never poor, we just had no money…


Above: Jeremy Bales did a shorter, 5-minute video, Eva Zeisel – Distinguished by Design, in 2008. If you watch just one video right away — watch this one.

…I’m better than before because i have so much experience… And I’m going to live a long time and still design on and on. Designing is pleasure for me.”


Above: She worked on a ceramic tile line with Trikeenan — the video above is lovely.

Eva Zeisel Forum

The Eva Zeisel Forum is an amazing treasure trove of information about Zeisel’s life and work. Their site includes an extensive links page, which I will not try to replicate, but which a serious Zeisel scholar or collector should be sure to consult. They also have what looks to be a definitive chronology / timeline of her live and work — nicely done!

More good stories about Eva Zeisel

Says Eva: “In general, the inspiration for my work has been the human body—belly buttons, which I used quite often—nature and the Hungarian folk art of my youth… Modernism, rebelling against the ornament of the 19th century, limited the vocabulary of the designer. Modernism emphasized straight lines, eliminating the expressive S curve.” –

  • Similarly, the LA Times mentions in its obituary:

In 2005, then-98-year-old Zeisel chuckled as she told a National Public Radio interviewer that she gravitated to curves “probably because I consist myself of curves instead of straight lines, meaning I’m a little bit fat.”

Part of what has always been so appealing about Zeisel’s work is her iconoclastic view of what modern design-and, indeed, modern life-is all about. She celebrates the voluptuous and fantastical. She gives us a winking, twinkling, seductive modernity. She’s not afraid of our half-submerged rococo or baroque impulses. She believes that even the form that follows the function can dance a little gavotte.”

Obituaries

All my work is mother-and-child,” Zeisel once said. Often critical of Modernism despite being one of its towering figures, the designer said she simply tried to recapture the “magic language of things.” And: “By her own estimation, Zeisel had designed 100,000 pieces of tableware, in styles as diverse as Bauhaus, Russian Art Nouveau and her best-known approach, organic modern.”

  • The Washington Post — “… She resisted being characterized as an artist. ‘Art has more ego to it than what I do,’ she once told the New Yorker.”

Eva Zeisel products still manufactured for sale today Eva Zeisel Century dinnerware

  • Crate and Barrel’s Eva Zeisel “Century” dinnerware was originally designed in 1952, C&B says. The New York Times said it is based on one of her vintage Hallcraft designs. $268 for a 20-piece set. But note: READ the REVIEWS.

Eva Zeisel coffee table

  • Eva Zeisel Originals — run by her grandson Adam — sells a variety of furniture and collectibles, including the coffee table above.

Eva Zeisel salt and pepper shakers from Eva Zeisel OriginalsIf you just want “a little something”, these salt and pepper shakers — also from Eva Zeisel Originals — are just lovely.

Eva Zeisel centerpiece with Klein Reid

  • Klein Reid collaborated with Zeisel and sells a number of beautiful pieces — like the sensuous 11-piece centerpiece, above — manufactured today.

Eva Zeisel room divider and other designs from Orange Chicken

  • Orange Chicken also began a collaboration with with Zeisel in 1998, and offers a unique selection — including awesome looking room dividers.

eva zeisel lighting by lumens

eva zeisel rugs from the rug company

The Rug Company: What does the word quality mean to you?
Eva Zeisel: Quality means having a purpose forever.

Eva Zeisel goblets

In conclusion: Eva Zeisel: A life, well lived. <3

Note: This is not a place to buy/sell.
I will delete such comments. 

Be-Safe-graphic2.3

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Comments

  1. says

    We went to an exhibit of her designs at the LA Craft & Folk Art Museum a while back that was wonderful. Amazing range of designs, and of course such a long career. I had not heard of her passing, and am saddened by the world’s loss. Truly an inspirational life!

  2. Victoria says

    We were lucky enough to intercept my inlaws’ set of Hallcraft Century “Fantasy” as they were put in boxes to give to Goodwill. They had received them as wedding china, but there were enough missing pieces that they were replacing them with a new set of dishes. Still a substantial number of dishes, cups, servingware! Thank the gods we happened to be there that day. We have built up the set with ebay finds and in fact, my mother in law bought a set of cups and saucers for our anniversary one year from Replacements, Inc. So much for getting rid of them, she bought some more for me!

    They are exquisite forms, beautiful like all of Eva Zeisel’s beautiful and practical work. I’m so sad to learn Eva has died, and I hope I’m just like her working until I’m 105.

  3. ELK says

    I can’t believe this is the first I have heard about her passing. Must have been because of the holidays. 🙁 Just so sad! I have always loved her plump little salt and pepper shakers and so many other great amorphic designs.

    I have several serving pieces from her from both vintage Hallcraft and Nambe. I believe Nambe still produces her pieces. I guess I will have to pull out the candlesticks tonight.

    RIP –

  4. says

    What a fantastic post! Thank you for all of your research and work. I have long been a fan of her work – such a wonderful inspiration both as a designer and a woman. I also collect her Fantasy pattern just like Victoria above and happy to read that she saved that box of goodness!

  5. Jay says

    Thanks for the post. I did not know she had passed but it was a holiday weekend. She designed a number of items for Hall China in the 50’s that are still highly sought after, very appropriate for MCM homes.

  6. says

    Oh this is an absolutely fantastic post! Thank you so much for putting this together. I am going to share it with my interior design students today via my blog. I promise I will give you full credit! Thank you again this woman was an amazing designer.

    • pam kueber says

      That’s great, Tessa. I also have similar Definitive Online Guides for David Hicks and Royal Barry Wills — check ’em out (use Search).

  7. Ally Cat says

    Thank you for sharing this with us! I did not know of this woman’s amazing life and work, but I feel enriched by watching her talk about her life. Seeing such amazing work truly puts the world of aesthetic design in perspective, as her work and spirit are truly timeless. Thank you! And thank Eva!

  8. Jeff says

    Love the tribute to Eva Zeisel- I have her “Caprice” pattern dinnerware from Hall.

    Interesting how so many artists have such long lives- we recently lost modern artist Helen Frankenthaler as well.

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