On our weekly rubric of the 20th century most famous designers we are featuring today Eva Zeisel’s work, the second female designer in our rubric. She may be in second in our list but she was certainly the first in many aspects of her career.
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Born in Budapest in 1906, Eva Stricker entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at age 17, intending to become a painter, but her mother prevailed upon her to learn some trade whereby she could earn a living, the world of fine art being chancy. So Eva apprenticed herself to a traditional potter and began learning her trade. The life of the apprentice in any of the trades was not always easy or pleasant, but Eva persisted and soon graduated to journeyman status. Just a year after that her work was displayed at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial, where she won an honorable mention. By then she was working as a designer in the Kispester Factory in Budapest. She then advertised in the trade papers that she was a qualified journeyman seeking a position and received several responses.
When asked recently why she chose the particular one she did she replied, “Because it was the furthest from home.” She wanted to travel and widen her experience of the world and at the same time increase her skills. She moved to Schramberg, Germany, where she acquired skills in all phases of industrial production and became one of the first (and certainly the first woman) to move the ceramic arts into contemporary mass production.
She later moved to Berlin and to other factories in Hamburg and throughout Europe. In 1932 she went to Russia on vacation in order to experience the new artistic and social movements there, as did many other idealistic young artists and intellectuals. As an experienced industrial designer she was soon offered a position assisting in the modernization of the ceramic industry, where her creativity and dynamism stood her well. She traveled to many parts of Russia in order to understand and coordinate efforts to create a central manufactory which would make products for the homes of the everyday citizenry. Her efforts were recognized, and she was soon transferred to the Lomonosov factory in Leningrad (the former Imperial Porcelain Factory). This in turn led to her appointment as Artistic Director for the Porcelain and Glass Industries for the entire country.
In 1939 she created the department of ceramic arts industrial design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she taught until 1952.
One of her first designs in the U.S. was for Sears, Roebuck. She has since designed for Hall China, Red Wing China, Castleton China, Norleans Meito (Japan), Western Stoneware, Hyalyn, Phillip Rosenthal (Germany), Mancioli (Italy), Federal Glass, Heisey Glass, Noritake (Japan), Nikkon Toki (Japan), and almost too many others to mention.
Famous designer Eva Zeisel received many honors for her outstanding achievements, beginning with her selection in 1942 by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to design a line of fine porcelain dinnerware for the Castleton China Company of Pennsylvania. The designs were not completed and produced until 1945, due to wartime restriction, but were presented at a one-woman show at MoMA in 1947.