I used to frequent a downtown restaurant called Junno's, which I remember both for their fusion food and because the interior featured a large ceramic room divider designed by Eva Zeisel. I knew Zeisel's name not only from my History of Industrial Design classes, but also because I had scribbled down phone messages from her; my college roommate, also an ID major, worked for her in the early '90s and she would occasionally call for him when he was out.
Eva Zeisel passed away last Friday at the age of 105. She was a giant in the design business with an amazing life story: She began her career in the 1920s designing ceramics in Germany, before eventually moving to Russia, where she was imprisoned after falsely being accused of plotting to assassinate Joseph Stalin. After being released she was deported to Austria, where in the 1930s she fled the Nazis by reportedly catching the last train out of town. She subsequently married Hanz Zeisel in England and boarded a ship to New York City, where she eventually taught ceramics at Pratt Institute, me and my roommate's alma mater, in the ’40s. And in 1946 she broke new ground for female designers by having the first-ever one-woman show at the MoMA.
In the many decades since then Zeisel designed furniture, ceramics, tableware and kitchenware that now resides in the Met, the MoMA, the Cooper-Hewitt, the British Museum, the V&A Museum and others around the world. She released new designs for a lounge chair and salt & pepper shakers through her website as recently as 2010, when she was 103 years old. In the video below, as she communicates with an assistant, you can see how she continued to produce designs even when she could no longer physically manipulate the materials:
For more on Zeisel, in her own words, check out her TED talk here, and her self-written book Eva Zeisel On Design: The Magic Language of Things.
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