The Mother of Modern Design
Eva Zeisel is 99 years old. In the century that she has been alive, she has dominated industrial design in every sense. She was the director of the Leningrad State Porcelain Factory in the Soviet Union from 1932-1936, when she was arrested for suspicion of plotting to assassinate Stalin. She wound up in New York, where she taught design at the Pratt Institute and began designing for Hall China. Her work was curvilinear in a time when everybody was going apeshit for angular modernism. The objects she produced were literally the foundation on which 50's and 60's industrial design were built. It is estimated that she has designed more than 100,000 objects in her lifetime...try to do the math on that one. In the year 2005, her designs exist comfortably alongside the most shockingly modern computer-created blobjects.
In 1999, I was a graduate student at Alfred University, where the museum mounted a Zeisel retrospective that even included molds that were thought to have been destroyed. Zeisel herself came to the opening, and in classic Alfred style...we threw her a POT LUCK! At some point toward the end of the evening, I found myself alone with Eva, chatting about her time at the Leningrad Porcelain Factory. She talked about what a dick Tatlin was, and about Malevich skulking around the factory. It was amazing to talk to somebody at the turn of the century who had rubbed elbows with people that only existed for me in history books. The last few years have thankfully seen a resurgence of interest in Zeisel, who continues to churn out furniture and objects at a dizzying pace. TheCooper-Hewitt National Design museum will give her a Lifetime Achievement award in October, and a retrospective is at the Hillwood Museum in Washington D.C. through December. Crate and Barrel is selling reproductions of one her sets, and SLATE Magazine just published an online slideshow about Zeisel that serves as a great introduction to her life and work. RESPEKT!