November 13, 1906|
|Died||December 30, 2011
New City, New York, U.S.
Eva Striker Zeisel (born Éva Amália Striker, 13 November 1906 – 30 December 2011) was a Hungarian-born American industrial designer known for her work with ceramics, primarily from the period after she migrated to the United States. Her forms are often abstractions of the natural world and human relationships. Work from throughout her prodigious career is included in important museum collections across the world. Zeisel declared herself a "maker of useful things".
Early life and family
She was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1906 to a wealthy, highly educated assimilated Jewish family. Her mother, Laura Polányi Striker, a historian, was the first woman to get a PhD from the University of Budapest. Laura's work on Captain John Smith's adventures in Hungary added fundamentally to our understanding and appreciation of his reliability as a narrator. Laura's uncles, Karl Polanyi, the sociologist and economist, and Michael Polanyi, the physical chemist and philosopher of science, are also very well known.
Despite her family's intellectual prominence in the field of science, Eva Striker always felt a deep attraction towards art. At 17, Zeisel entered Budapest's Magyar Képzőművészeti Akadémia (Hungarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts) as a painter. However, to support her painting, she eventually decided to pursue a more practical profession and apprenticed herself to Jakob Karapancsik, the last pottery master in the medieval guild system. From him she learned ceramics from the ground up. After graduating as a journeyman she found work with German ceramic manufacturers. She was the first woman to qualify as a journeyman in the Hungarian Guild of Chimney Sweeps, Oven Makers, Roof Tilers, Well Diggers and Potters.
Early career, imprisonment, and emigration
In 1928, Eva Striker became the designer for the Schramberger Majolikafabrik in the Black Forest region of Germany where she worked for about two years creating many playfully geometric designs for dinnerware, tea sets, vases, inkwells and other ceramic items. Her designs at Schramberg were largely influenced by modern architecture. In addition, she had just learned to draft with compass and ruler and was proud to put them to use. In 1930, Eva moved to Berlin, designing for the Carstens factories.
At the age of 29, after several jobs in the Russian ceramics industry—inspecting factories in the Ukraine as well as designing for the Lomonosov and Dulevo factories—Zeisel was named artistic director of the Soviet china and glass industry. On May 26, 1936, while living in Moscow, Zeisel was arrested. She had been falsely accused of participating in an assassination plot against Joseph Stalin. She was held in prison for 16 months, 12 of which were spent in solitary confinement. In September 1937, Zeisel was expelled and deported to Vienna, Austria. Some of her prison experiences form the basis for Darkness at Noon, the well known anti-Stalinist novel written by a childhood friend, Arthur Koestler. It was while in Vienna that Zeisel re-established contact with her future husband Hans Zeisel, later a noted legal scholar, statistician, and professor at The University of Chicago. A few months after her arrival in Vienna the nazis invaded, and Eva took the last train out. She and Hans met up in England where they married and sailed for the U.S. with $67 between them.
US career, 1937–1960s
When Zeisel arrived in the US, she had to reestablish her reputation as a designer. Beginning in 1937, she taught at Pratt Institute in New York, and created designs for the Bay Ride Specialty Company and Stratoware (a rare, short-lived line make for Sears), among others. In 1942, Zeisel was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art and Castleton China to design a set of modern, porcelain, undecorated china that would be worthy of exhibition at MoMA and be produced for sale by Castleton. The resulting exhibition, "New Shapes in Modern China Designed by Eva Zeisel," ran from April 17 to June 9, 1946, and was the first one-woman exhibition at MoMA. It was received with wide praise, but because of war-time constraints the porcelain dishware did not go into mass production until 1949. Zeisel's dishes, known as "Museum" and "Castleton White," were manufactured and sold over the next several decades, initially in all-white as designed by Zeisel, and later with a wide variety of decorations. Zeisel credited this commission with establishing her reputation in the US, remarking that, "it made me an accepted first-rate designer rather than a run-of-the-mill designer." 
"Museum's" success brought Zeisel to the attention of Red Wing Potteries, for whom she designed the perennially popular "Town and Country" in response to their request for dishes as "Greenwich-Villagey" as possible.
Around 1949–1950, Zeisel was commissioned by Hall China Company to create her most popular line, "Tomorrow's Classic". Production began in 1952 and was a full line of dinnerware and tableware accessories, including plates, bowls, cups & saucers, serving platters and bowls, butter dishes, sugar bowls and creamers, candleholders, salt & pepper shakers, etc. Initially intended to be offered in plain white, her Pratt students were involved in designing the decal patterns that Hall requested.
In 1955, Zeisel created a second line for Hall called "Century" with production beginning in 1956.
Later career, 1980s–2011
Zeisel stopped designing during the 1960s and 1970s, to work on American history writing projects, returning to work in the 1980s. Many of her recent designs have found the same success as her earlier designs. Zeisel’s recent designs have included glassware, ceramics, furniture and lamps for The Orange Chicken, porcelain, crystal and limited-edition prints for KleinReid, glasses and giftware for Nambé, a teakettle for Chantal, furniture and gift-ware for Eva Zeisel Originals, rugs for The Rug Company, one of Crate and Barrel’s best selling dinner services "Classic-Century" (which combines some pieces from both "Tomorrow's Classic" and "Fantasy" lines) and a coffee table and stoneware / dinnerware set for Design Within Reach. "Classic-Century" is an updated version of the Hallcraft sets, most of the pieces made from the original molds (dishwasher safe).
In addition, a bone china tea set, designed in 2000, is being manufactured by the Lomonosov Porcelain factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, her new designs for a line of glass lamps (pendant, wall and table lamps) was introduced in 2012 by Leucos USA, and in 2013 her designs for dimensional wall tiles and space dividers will be launched by Cumulus Design Group.
Eva released two designs in 2010 through EvaZeiselOriginals.com: Eva Zeisel Lounge Chair and Eva Zeisel Salt & Pepper Shakers. The Lounge Chair was featured in the February 2010 issue of O Magazine and The S&P shakers were featured in the April 2010 issues of O Magazine.
Reproduction of earlier designs have been sold at MoMa, Brooklyn Museum and Neue Gallery, as well as other museum gift shops.
Eva Zeisel’s designs are made for use. The inspiration for her sensuous forms often comes from the curves of the human body. Zeisel’s more organic approach to modernism most likely comes as a reaction to the Bauhaus aesthetics that were popular at the time of her early training. Her sense of form and color, as well as her use of bird themes, show influence from the Hungarian folk arts she grew up with. Most of Zeisel’s designs, whether in wood, metal, glass, plastic or ceramics, are designed in family groups. Many of her designs nest together creating modular designs that also function to save space.
Zeisel describes her designs in a New York Sun article: “I don’t create angular things. I’m a more circular person—it’s more my character….even the air between my hands is round.” 
Among her most collected shapes are the eccentric, biomorphic "Town and Country" dishes, produced by Red Wing Pottery, in 1947. This set includes the iconic "mother and child" salt and pepper shakers.
Eva raised two children with Hans: a daughter, Jean Richards, who was born in 1940 and a son, John Zeisel, who was born in 1944. In the documentary Throwing Curves: Eva Zeisel, John and Jean comment on their parents' tempestuous relationship in the 1940s and 50s when the children were young. In the film John claims, that both Hans and Eva had dominant personalities, and that this often led to "a collision of forcefields".
Museums and exhibitions
Zeisel’s works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum; Brooklyn Museum; New-York Historical Society, Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the British Museum;The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Bröhan Museum, Germany; as well as Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Milwaukee museums and others in the US and abroad.
In the 1980s, a 50-year retrospective exhibit of her work organized by Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Smithsonian Institution traveled through the US, Europe and Russia. In 2004, a significant retrospective exhibition "Eva Zeisel: The Playful Search for Beauty" was organized by the Knoxville Museum of Art, which subsequently traveled to the Milwaukee Art Museum, the High Museum, Atlanta, and the Hillwood Museum & Gardens, Washington D.C.
From 2005 to 2007 the Erie Art Museum, Erie, PA, mounted the long-term exhibition "Eva Zeisel: The Shape of Life."
On December 10, 2006, The Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego, opened a major centenary retrospective exhibit "Eva Zeisel: Extraordinary Designer at 100", showing her designs from Schramberg (1928) through to current designs for Nambe, Chantal, Eva Zeisel Originals, The Orange Chicken and others (2006). The show ran through August 12, 2007. In the same year, the Pratt Institute Gallery also organized an Exhibition celebrating her centenary.
In 2005, Zeisel won the Lifetime Achievement award from the Cooper-Hewett National Design Museum. She has also received the two highest civilian awards from the Hungarian government, as well as the Pratt Legends award and awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America and Alfred University. She is an honorary member of the Royal Society of Industrial Designers, and has received honorary degrees from Parsons (New School), Rhode Island School of Design, the Royal College of Art, and the Hungarian University of the Arts.
- Eva Zeisel: The Shape of Life Erie Art Museum, 2009, essay by Lance Esplund
- Eva Zeisel on Design by Eva Zeisel, Overlook Press 2004
- Eva Zeisel: The Playful Search for Beauty by Lucie Young, Chronicle Books 2003
- Eva Zeisel, Designer for Industry, 1984 (Out of print. Available through EvaZeiselForum)
- Eva Zeisel: Throwing Curves 2002 (documentary film, Canobie Films, Director: Jyll Johnstone
- Regular Bulletins from EvaZeiselForum
- Available as enhanced iBook (iPad, iPhone, iPod: including photos, audio and video); also for Kindle: Eva Zeisel: A Soviet Prison Memoir
- "Eva Zeisel, Ceramic Artist and Designer, Dies at 105". The New York Times.
- "Re: Road Warrior". The New Yorker. January 18, 2010. p. 5.
- "Eva Zeisel". Royal Stafford. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- Thurman, Judith (December 18, 2006). "Prolific". The New Yorker.
- "Eva S. Zeisel". Collections. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
- The Eva Zeisel Forum; www.evazeisel.org
- Butler, Cornelia. Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art.
- Young, Lucie (c. 2003). Eva Zeisel. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p. 11. ISBN 0811834336.
- Young, Lucie (c. 2003). Eva Zeisel. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p. 14. ISBN 0811834336.
- Kirkham, Moore, and Wolffram, Pat, Pat, and Pirco (2013). Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. pp. 66–73, 76, 222. ISBN 9781452108520.
- Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty. San Francisco, CA. p. 68. ISBN 9781452108520.
- Traubman, Eleanor; Meeting Eva Zeisel; January 13, 2007,
- McGee, Celia (March 2007). "Eva's Ardor". Departures Magazine.
- Herrup, Katharine; A Potter, a Pioneer, A Candlestick Maker; The New York Sun, At Home Section, March 3, 2007
- Wroten, Timothy. "Remembering New York Designer Eva Zeisel". Behind the Scenes Blog. The New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
- "Throwing Curves: Eva Zeisel". www.canobiefilms.org. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
- "Lifetime Achievement Award: Winner: Eva Zeisel". Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
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