Eva Zeisel: Life, Design and Beauty

Pat Kirkham, Pat Moore and Pirco Wolfframm
Eva Zeisel: Life, Design and Beauty
(San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2013).

Eva Zeisel is one of the most renowned ceramicists of the 20th century. Her oeuvre spans more than eight decades and sought to bring modernist design to industrialized production of mostly household ceramics. Her work is infused with a modernist sensibility but without the strict adherence or the rigor of the followers of the modern movement. While some of her pieces reflect the times in which they were created most of her work can be described as timeless and is characterized by an elegance of line and form that is more organic and truly classic.

Born in Budapest, then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, she started her career in ceramics in an apprenticeship in 1924 and opened her own studio the year after. She worked alternatively in Budapest, Vienna and Berlin, until 1932, when she moved to Russia like so many artists and architects at the time. She remained in Russia till 1937 with the final year of her stay in prison accused of participating in a plot to assassinate Stalin. After her arrival in the US in 1938 she established herself as a ceramicist and industrial designer and in 1939 as a teacher at Pratt Institute where she remained active for many years. Over the many decades of her career, her work was produced in a number of European countries as well as Russia and the United States.

The beautifully illustrated Eva Zeisel: Life, Design and Beauty is divided in three parts. After a historic narrative about Zeisel’s life and career, the two subsequent sections address her work specifically. The second section consists of chapters describing and illustrating the different collections, while the final part is a catalogue raisonné detailing the various pieces of every collection in outline figures and diagrams giving both dimensions and marks. This part is a valuable tool for any collector of Zeisel’s pottery. The authors of the book can be described as “Zeisel aficionados”. Pat Kirkham, the editor of the book, is a well-known authority on modern design and teaches at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City and Pat Moore and Pirco Wolfframm as collectors of founders and participants in the Eva Zeisel forum. The photography does justice to the beauty of Zeisel’s ceramics and is the work of Brent Brolin.    

While the book is intended more as a catalogue raisonné of her work and if a criticism is to be made, it involves the lack of any discussion of her influence as a teacher. Like Rowena Reed, who was already at Pratt when Zeisel arrived, she was at the forefront of teaching industrial design at a time when women designers (or architects for that matter) were rare. Their influence on many generations of students cannot be underestimated.

The title of the book is doubly appropriate. It is about Eva Zeisel and her life but it is also about design and above all beauty. This well-illustrated book does proper justice to the work of a great artist and designer with its 256 pages and many illustrations in color and black and white photographs as well as numerous drawings and diagrams.  

Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty

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