Design Icon: Eva Zeisel

written by:
March 19, 2014
Hungarian designer Eva Zeisel is best known for her sculptural organic ceramic pieces.
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  Eva Zeisel (1906-2011) crafted playful ceramic pieces and described herself as “a maker of useful things.” Originally a painter, Zeisel turned to ceramics as a more practical alternative career. She went on to become the first journeyman in the Hungarian guild for potters, and then worked in Germany for two years creating dinnerware, tea sets, and other assorted items. She moved to Russia “out of curiosity” and became the artistic director of the glass and ceramics industries for the Communist government. When she was 30, she was accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin and imprisoned for 16 months, 12 of which were in solitary confinement. This time altered her perception greatly, “You feel the difference first in the way you see colors,” she wrote later. She married Hans Zeisel, and they eventually moved to New York where she taught at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, presenting ceramics as an industrial design, rather than a traditional craft. Her work began to garner international attention, ultimately earning her the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewett National Design Museum, and she continued to actively work almost up until her death, at age 105. 

    Eva Zeisel (1906-2011) crafted playful ceramic pieces and described herself as “a maker of useful things.” Originally a painter, Zeisel turned to ceramics as a more practical alternative career. She went on to become the first journeyman in the Hungarian guild for potters, and then worked in Germany for two years creating dinnerware, tea sets, and other assorted items. She moved to Russia “out of curiosity” and became the artistic director of the glass and ceramics industries for the Communist government. When she was 30, she was accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin and imprisoned for 16 months, 12 of which were in solitary confinement. This time altered her perception greatly, “You feel the difference first in the way you see colors,” she wrote later. She married Hans Zeisel, and they eventually moved to New York where she taught at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, presenting ceramics as an industrial design, rather than a traditional craft. Her work began to garner international attention, ultimately earning her the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewett National Design Museum, and she continued to actively work almost up until her death, at age 105. 

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  Originally designed in 1952, this timeless tabletop art makes a comeback in a creamy neutral. Each organic, elegant piece is a masterpiece of form and function. “Men have no concept of how to design things for the home,” Zeisel once told a writer. “Women should design the things they use.”

    Originally designed in 1952, this timeless tabletop art makes a comeback in a creamy neutral. Each organic, elegant piece is a masterpiece of form and function. “Men have no concept of how to design things for the home,” Zeisel once told a writer. “Women should design the things they use.”

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  The Granit Teapot, a collaboration between Zeisel, Design Within Reach, and the Kispester-Granit factory in Budapest (where Zeisel was hired for her for job), matches Ziesel’s requirements for serving ware. “I like the way the very thin, hard edges of the plates change into a soft, inviting bellybutton,” she said. “All the pieces together make a very nice family.”

    The Granit Teapot, a collaboration between Zeisel, Design Within Reach, and the Kispester-Granit factory in Budapest (where Zeisel was hired for her for job), matches Ziesel’s requirements for serving ware. “I like the way the very thin, hard edges of the plates change into a soft, inviting bellybutton,” she said. “All the pieces together make a very nice family.”

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  Ziesel’s coffee table, made in 1993, puts her swirling, whimsical themes in a different medium, available at Design Within Reach. 

    Ziesel’s coffee table, made in 1993, puts her swirling, whimsical themes in a different medium, available at Design Within Reach

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  Zeisel designed the Eva Kettle with Chantal to celebrate her 100th birthday. The curvy design offsets the severity of stainless steel. 

    Zeisel designed the Eva Kettle with Chantal to celebrate her 100th birthday. The curvy design offsets the severity of stainless steel. 

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  One of the last projects completed before Eva Zeisel’s death, this is also her first-ever lighting collection. In addition to the pendants, both silhouettes are available in table and sconce versions at Lumens.

    One of the last projects completed before Eva Zeisel’s death, this is also her first-ever lighting collection. In addition to the pendants, both silhouettes are available in table and sconce versions at Lumens.

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