Every time I see Eva Zeisel’s work in a museum, I let out an audible, “Oh! Eva Zeisel!” Her work is delightful in how she combines lines from nature with simplicity and playfulness and functionality. Zeisel’s work calls for an audible “Oh!” It’s the appropriate response.
Eva Zeisel lived to be 105 and worked her entire life. She was born in Budapest and schooled in the guild system there. She then worked in Ukraine and in 1936 she was arrested in Moscow, imprisoned for 16 months, then moved to Vienna upon her release. In 1938 she fled the Nazis and immigrated to the US. In 1946, she was the first woman to have a one-woman show at MoMA.
In 2001, Zeisel gave a TED Talk. She was 94:
I call myself a maker of things. I don’t call myself an industrial designer because I’m other things. Industrial designers want to make novel things. Novelty is a concept of commerce, not an aesthetic concept. The industrial design magazine, I believe, is called “Innovation.” Innovation is not part of the aim of my work. We are makers of things…we are actually concerned with the playful search for beauty…. Sarah Smith, who was a mathematics professor at MIT, wrote, “The playful search for beauty was Man’s first activity”…The word, “playful” is a necessary aspect of our work…this for me is now 75 years.
A 75-year career really gives you time to think deeply about your work and it’s relationship to the world. Some argue that work from her time–the Bauhaus style–isn’t relevant to the 21st century. I used to argue this too but my thinking has evolved. Because when you zoom out and look at what the Bauhaus was doing in that particular time and space, they were searching for a new vocabulary at the emergence of a technological and political revolution. The same thing is happening now. It is relevant. And we might do well to look back at masters like Zeisel to find the beauty and the usefulness of it all. A sense of play. Our humanity.
Image Source: Design Within Reach
NYTs obit: Eva Zeisel
Google Image Search of “Eva Zeisel Work“