In an era dominated by rational, linear forms—and male players—Eva Zeisel brought warmth, organic shapes and a sense of humor into midcentury homes through her designs. A ceramist and designer, the Hungarian-born Eva Zeisel had a long and celebrated career. She has the distinction of being the first woman to have an exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA) in New York.
Life in the Tumultuous 20th Century
Born Eva Amalia Striker in Budapest in 1906, she trained for three semesters to be a painter before pursuing ceramics instead. After an apprenticeship, her ceramics, particularly her tableware, garnered recognition. Before long she was working in Budapest, next in Schramberg and Berlin, Germany and then in Moscow.
While working in Moscow, she was imprisoned on false charges of conspiring to assassinate Stalin and was released without explanation the following year in Austria, in 1937. After Nazi Germany invaded Austria in 1938, she left for Great Britain, where she reunited with someone she had met in Berlin, Hans Zeisel. The two married, and they emigrated to the US.
The Museum Collection
In 1940, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA) in New York commissioned Eva Zeisel to design modern tableware for an exhibition that could then be produced commercially. Zeisel accepted and by 1943, her all-white tableware exhibition was complete, showcasing her simplified, curvaceous designs entitled “Museum.” A lack of ornamentation was a noticeable departure from the tableware of the time, and World War II’s long shadow meant it could not be commercially produced until three years later in 1946.
A Warm Legacy
“Men have no concept of how to design things for the home. Women should design the things they use.”—Eva Zeisel
Rather than angular shapes, Zeisel drew on organic, rounded forms. Her designs often showed things in relation to one another, resembling families, like the nestling shapes of the Town & Country salt and pepper shakers evoking a mother and child. Zeisel noted that modern design could be “too cold,” and endeavored to warm up the minimalist simplicity of modernity with a sense of humor. Her designs such as figural vases and a belly button wall partition convey organic, simple shapes in a lighthearted way.
Zeisel also designed furniture, most notably a table with a scrolling base and a chair. She described her career as a “playful search for beauty.” The Smithsonian awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award. She lived to be 105.
Atomic Ranch is Celebrating Women’s History Month!
March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, join us as we showcase some of the midcentury’s most beloved women designers as well as some modern makers inspired by their legacy. Click here to read more about the ladies behind your favorite designs, pieces and places.