Born in Budapest, Hungary on November 13, 1906 to a prosperous family, Eva Zeisel (nee Striker) would go on to become one of the most influential industrial designers of the twentieth century. Though she doesn’t consider herself an industrial designer, but rather a “maker of useful things”, at 104 she continues to crank out some of the most sought-after contemporary modern design.
Starting out as an apprentice to a Hungarian pottery master, Zeisel quickly learned the ropes of the guild system (one dating back to the middle ages). In the late 1920s she became a designer for a pottery factory in Germany’s Black Forrest producing Bauhaus influenced ceramics. In the early 1930s she emigrated to the Soviet Union to join her brother, Michael, and at 29 became the artistic director of the Soviet ceramics industry. However, a year after she took her post, she was imprisoned for 16 months after being accused of participating in a plot to assassinate Stalin. Luckily she was released, made her way to Austria, met her husband Hans Zeisel, escaped the Nazis, and emigrated to the USA, where she’s still making useful things today. Happy 104th, Eva!
Eva Zeisel’s designs are made for use. The inspiration for her sensuous forms often comes from the natural organic curves of the body, taking advantage of the softness of clay. 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 show influence from the Hungarian folk arts she grew up seeing.  All of Zeisel’s designs, whether it be her furniture, metal, glass or ceramic, are often made in sets or in relationship to other objects. Many of Zeisel’s 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.”
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