I first learned about Eva Zeisel during a June 2006 episode of CBS News Sunday Morning. She was born in 1906 to a Jewish family in Hungary, and, over the course of her life, has designed roughly 100,000 glass and ceramic objects. As a young adult, she was made Director of Glass and China for the USSR. A year later, she was arrested and imprisoned for 16 months in Moscow on suspicion of plotting to assassinate Stalin (!). Twelve of those months she spent in solitary confinement. She was released for reasons unknown to her.
Shortly after her release from prison, Eva and her husband Hans came to New York with $64. She established the first American course teaching ceramics as industrial design at Pratt University. She also opened a design studio in the basement of her apartment building on Riverside Drive. In 1963, she created her last design for 20 years. After resuming activity in 1983, she designed metal dishes, crystal vases, lamps, office interiors, tea sets and martini glasses. She was the first person to design an all-white Modernist dinner service in the United States.
Five months after viewing Eva on television, I learned through newspaper articles and a Crate and Barrel ad that she was about to turn 100. I also saw that we shared the same birthday! That’s when I decided to pursue an in-person interview with her. My hands were shaking as I dialed Eva Zeisel’s telephone number. I was, after all, calling one of the biggest influences on 20th Century design who had just turned 100 years told.
“Who are you?” Eva asked in her Eastern European accent.
“Eleanor Traubman,” Ms. Zeisel. “I write a publication called Creative Times. I used to live in your neighborhood and I went to Bank Street [a grad school near her home]. We have the same birthday.”
Sweat was now running down my back as I stumbled to communicate the purpose of my call. “Ms. Zeisel, I would love an opportunity to interview you for my newsletter.”
I guess the spirit behind my call, certainly not my eloquence, came through because Ms. Zeisel eventually put her assistant on the phone with me. A few minutes later, I had successfully set up a time to visit with Eva in her home.
Shortly after I’d celebrated my 37th birthday and Eva her 100th, I came to her apartment for our visit. The first thing I noticed is that she was surrounded by dozens of floral arrangements people had sent to her. Eva wasn’t feeling well that day, so we kept the chatting to a minimum. She enjoyed sitting close and holding hands. At the end of the visit, with tears in my eyes, I thanked her for creating so much beauty and inspiration.
I will always be grateful that I had the chance to learn about and meet Eva Zeisel, the woman who has committed her life to the “playful search for beauty.”
Many thanks to you, Eva. With Love, Eleanor
For more information about Eva:
Eva Zeisel by Lucie Young
News article in Boston Globe
Eva Zeisel Forum