Hungarian-born designer Eva Zeisel brought abstracted shapes of nature and human relationships of modernist design into the American middle-class tableware. Known for her ceramics, she entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest in the ’20s, studying painting before dedicating herself to learning ceramics.

Introduced to modernist design and architecture during the “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” in 1925, in Paris, she found modernist aesthetic too cold. Her designs offered a more human and playful approach to create everyday objects, mostly dedicated to tableware and at that time women.

In 1928, she was hired by a mass German ceramics manufacturer (Schramberg Majolica Factory), turning her career from a ceramist artist to an industrial designer.

Eva Zeisel at the Schramberger ceramic works in Germany, 1930.

In 1936, while she worked as an artistic director for the Russian Glass and Porcelain Trust in Moscow, she’s arrested for plotting the assassination of Joseph Stalin and spends 16 months in a Soviet prison. Once released, she moved to Vienna and in 1938 when nazis entered Austria, traveled to New York with her husband and nothing more than $64 in their pockets.

In 1942, she’s commissioned by Castleton China and MoMA to create a tableware collection. Delayed by the war, she designed her best-known collection called “Museum Dinner Service,” promoted as “the first translucent dinnerware, modern in shape, to be produced in the United States.”

Affected by the WWII, Eva Zeisel is part of a post-war aesthetic trend that is less formal, refreshing and embodies a humanistic approach.

1950 Resilient Chair, in the permanent collection of MoMA, NYC. Photo credit MoMA.

Eva Zeisel’s work is closely linked to the ideas of designers such as Russel and Mary Wright, Charles and Ray Eames who conceive design “for everyone.” Paola Antonelli said, “It’s easy to do something stunning that stays in a collector’s cabinet. But her designs reached people at the table, where they gather.”

Eva Zeisel declared herself, “a maker of useful things.” “Men have no concept of how to design things for the home,” she told a writer. “Women should design the things they use.”

Daughter of Laura Polanyi Striker, historian, feminist and political activist and Alexander Striker, a textile manufacturer, she assumed a career along motherhood. Through shapes that complement each other, her creations embody the family theme. In 1947, she designed the “Town & Country” dinner service, whose iconic salt and pepper shakers interlaced, portraying a mother and child.

Eva Zeisel “Self -Portrait”, 1920s.
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Eva Zeisel