There are design icons. And then there is Eva Zeisel.
The Hungarian-born master of ceramics stood as the lone living member of the founding generation of industrial designers until she passed away on Dec. 30, 2011 at 105.
The impact of her curvaceous, abstract style has reverberated across the 20th and 21st centuries leaving a deeply humane and simply beautiful legacy for designers to draw inspiration from. Whether admiring the porcelain table service that essentially launched the U.S. portion of her career in 1946 or the salt and pepper shakers she released in 2010, her joy and compassion are clear and timeless to all of us.
As tributes to Eva Zeisel’s life and work made their way around the interwebs, IDSA members and the design community talked among themselves—celebrating her remarkable spirit. Following are comments and anecdotes demonstrating what Eva Zeisel has meant to the international design community:
Ayse Birsel, IDSA
“Eva Zeisel understood beauty and mastered it. Weren't we lucky to be witnesses?”
Gregg Davis, IDSA
“How rich and generous was her life and contribution to design! Let's find a way to carry Eva's energy forward in 2012! Happy New Year and a toast to Eva's life!”
“Eva's pupils, and their pupils, will carry her energy.”
Bruce Hannah, IDSA
“One of my fondest memories of Eva occurred when I was interviewing her at Pratt for a series titled ‘Dinner with the Designer.’ After the interview there was a Q&A with a room full of students. As Eva fielded the questions with grace and much humor, one student asked, ‘What do you attribute your longevity to?’”
“Eva, who was 95 at the time, quietly contemplated the answer for what seemed an eternity. In fact, the room became quite hushed—a proverbial pin would have shattered the silence. As we all waited with growing impatience, Eva replied, ‘No sports!’ As the laughter consumed the tension in the room, Eva beamed.”
“She was also a friend. I will miss her.”
“I remember bringing Eva some wild mushrooms—chanterelles, black trumpets—gathered from the woods around my house in Upstate New York. She cradled each gently and smelled each one as she selected the ones she wanted. Later, she asked about Upstate and I said that Mike and I had a house together.”
"‘Who's. Mike?’ she queried.”
"‘My boyfriend,’ I replied. ‘We've been together for six years.’”
"‘Oh,’ she said ‘And how many boyfriends do you have?’”
"‘Hmmm,’ she replied ‘Only one? That's too bad.’”
Tom Schutte, Ph. D.
"Eva was a quintessential design star. Her life’s history and achievements were awesome and amazing! I had Eva’s 90th birthday party celebration at the Pratt House. And, we held Eva’s 100th birthday party celebration at Pratt Manhattan to a packed crowd. How fortunate we were at Pratt to have had Eva on our faculty for 15 important years of her life. And how fortunate we were at Pratt to have had her so involved and connected with us from 1939 through 2011—more than seven decades! Her influence on so many students, faculty and alumni was awesome. Eva’s voice was soft, gentle and real!"
RitaSue Siegel, IDSA
“Eva's New York Times obituary missed that she was the recipient of the 1993 RRK Award [Roweena Reed Kostellow Award], obviously not understanding its importance. Eva and Rowena taught at Pratt at the same time. The trustees of the Rowena Reed Kostellow Fund, myself included, selected Eva for the honor of the award in part because she believed in and practiced ‘make it beautiful,’ a vital element of Rowena's legacy.”
Budd Steinhilber, FIDSA
“Viva Eva ! What a privilege to have been lucky enough to be one of Eva's students.”
“In 1939, Donald Dohner, the head of the industrial design program at Pratt, met Eva and immediately recognized her talent as a designer for production ceramic-ware (as opposed to a crafts ceramicist). He persuaded her to join the faculty at Pratt to teach ‘Ceramic Design for Industry.’ Dohner set up a totally equipped plaster shop (essential for teaching production ceramics) on the street floor of the engineering building. He even engaged Mr. Cazani, a retired veteran of the ceramic industry, as a full-time instructor in jigging, mold-making and slip-casting. Eva Zeisel encouraged us to ‘seek beauty’ in our ceramic-ware designs. She defined beauty as ‘a love affair of the eyes with things.’ Yet Eva was a stickler for function, and understanding production methods and their limitations. You were scolded if your teapot spout dripped, or if you failed to consider undercut problems in the slip-mold, or take into account varied wall-thickness deformation in a very hot kiln.”
“In 1997, when I initiated a campaign to nominate Eva for an IDSA Personal Recognition Award I sent out requests asking for letters of support. The response was overwhelming. When she addressed us on stage at the ceremonies (at 91 years) she still showed that feisty spirit, decrying those ‘designers who failed to seek beauty in the things that we make.’”
Tucker Viemeister, FIDSA
“She was the first ‘designer name’ I knew because she was my dad’s (Read Viemeister) teacher at Pratt and every night when I was a kid, we'd eat dinner on her plates—making me wonder why everyone else's plates were so frumpy! Besides being honored with a Rowena Reed Kostellow Award in 1993, she was an amazing formgiver, teacher at Pratt and huge design influence!”
“A few years ago, Gerald Gulotta, Richard Hayden and I enjoyed a dinner evening with Eva at her home. She asked us all what we had done in our careers. Richard said he had done the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. She said, ‘Yes, but what have you done lately?’”