Notes from the Arts + Crafts Research Studio of Andrew Cornell Robinson
Eva Zeisel, innovator and designer of delightful things, has come along way over the course of the past century. Born in Hungary in 1906 she was encouraged at an early age to pursue her creative interests. In her youth she became the first female apprentice of Hungary’s ceramics guild. Her precocious nature led to early design jobs in the commercial ceramics industry. In the 1930s she worked in the Soviet Union where she designed with some of the largest Russian ceramics manufacturers. Her innovative sense of modernist design and a systematic approach to practical and functional wares resulted in the creation of delightful modernist inspired modular and geometric forms glazed in a colorful palette. In 1936 during one of the political purges she was accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin. She was imprisoned for sixteen months where she was subjected to interrogation, brainwashing and torture. While many of her peers simply disappeared she was fortunately later expelled from the country. Once she was free she initially went to England, where she married Hans Zeisel and then in 1939 they both moved to New York where she created the first department of ceramic arts industrial design at Pratt Institute in Booklyn, where she taught until 1952. Her designs are included in a number of collections including Crate and Barrel, Nambé and Chantal. Her work has been included in exhibitions with the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art. Last year she received the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum.
“My new designs reflect, as always, my playful search for beauty,” says Zeisel, who continues to produce works regularly.
Zeisel’s contributions as an educator and innovator of modernist ideas within everyday design have continued through out her life’s work. Her early designs embrace innovations in form which show a relationship to modernist architecture and ideas emanating from the pedagogy of the Bauhaus. In the 1940s and 50s she worked on evocative forms in porcelain. Some of the asymmetrical petal like handles reveals a sculptural quality that distinguishes Zeisel’s work from the more mundane production pottery of the time. Some of her more memorable designs come to life in prototypes that utilize modular porcelain forms. In a design of a colorful architectural screen developed while working in Italy at the Manufattura Mancioli, she introduces an undulating female hip form with a central dimple or belly button. The resulting design is a stunning example of the gestalt within a modern visual vocabulary. Her later work, which includes some furniture and glassware, shows a steady development of form with an attention to details which as the artist has said, is “designed to delight” and this exhibition surely will delight fans of modern design.
By Andrew Cornell Robinson originally written for the Gay City News