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The Eva Stricker Zeisel Medallion

When Eva Stricker was a young woman just starting out in the early l920's she first attended art school, intending to become a painter, but her mother prevailed upon her to learn some trade whereby she could earn a living, the world of fine art being chancy. So Eva apprenticed herself to a traditional potter and began learning her trade. The life of the apprentice in any of the trades was not always easy or pleasant, but Eva persisted and soon graduated to journeyman status. She advertised in the papers that she was a qualified journeyman seeking a position, and received several responses. When asked recently why she chose the particular one she did she replied, "Because it was the furthest from home." She wanted to travel and widen her experience of the world at the same time she increased her skills. She did both, and in l932 decided to go to Russia, as did many other idealistic young artists and intellectuals, to experience both the new artistic and social movements there. She obtained a position assisting in the modernization of the ceramic industry, where her creativity and dynamism stood her well. She traveled to many parts of Russia in order to understand and coordinate their efforts to create a central manufactory which would make products for the homes of the everyday citizenry. Her efforts were recognized, and she was soon transferred to the Lomonosov factory in Leningrad (the former Imperial Porcelain Factory). This in turn led to her appointment as Artistic Director for the Porcelain and Glass Industries for the entire country.

In l936, however, she was caught up in one of the Stalinist purges (some have said because of the jealousy of some of her colleagues) and was imprisoned in the NKVD prison for 16 months, most of the time in solitary confinement. She was subjected to early forms of brainwashing, torture, and the constant possibility that each day would be her last. (Arthur Koestler, a lifelong friend, based his book "Darkness at Noon" on her prison experiences.) And then one day she was unexpectedly led out of her cell to what she feared was to be her execution and put on a train to Austria in the clothes she was standing in. Just as the reason for her imprisonment was never really known, so is the reason for her release. Once in Austria, she left on the last train out at the time of the Anschluss and went to England, where she married Hans Zeisel, who had waited seven years for her. They then went to New York, where they settled permanently.

During the time that Zeisel was in prison, another hero of the Stalinist era, Natalya D'Anko (pronounced donCOE), a well-known painter and sculptor and a good friend of Eva's was creating a series of bas-relief medallions of friends and colleagues from the intellectual and artistic circles of Moscow and St. Petersburg who had been caught in the cycle of betrayal, trials, and murders, and whom she wanted to commemorate, expecting that they would not survive this nightmare time. All of the medallions were hidden, for to be caught with them would mean that their creator would in turn be condemned. Natalya D'Anko died in 1942 during the siege of Leningrad, at about the time that Eva Zeisel was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art and Castleton China to create Museum dinnerware, which may be the most beautiful and critically acclaimed china ever produced in the United States.

In the early l990's, during the glasnost period, the charges against Stricker were legally overturned and she was declared "rehabilitated." Later in that decade, during the time of rebuilding at the Lomonosov Factory in St. Petersburg, the medallion of Eva Stricker was taken from hiding, and plans were made to present it to the person who, they had recently discovered, had re-emerged as the world-famous Eva Zeisel. In April, 2000, a delegation of 11 designers and artists from Lomonosov traveled to New York and presented Eva with the medallion which Natalya had made of her. After 60 years, Eva held in her hands the tribute from her friend.

The medallion, cast in bisque ceramic, shows the bas-relief profile of the young Eva, and is inscribed on the reverse with the names of the artist and the subject, and stamped with the Lomonosov factory insignia. In late 2000, Eva suggested that casts of the medallion be struck and be made available to those who recognized her contributions and wished to support the work of the Eva Zeisel Collectors Club. An agreement was made with the Lomonosov factory to create 500 numbered replicas of this life-affirming medallion, and these are now available for purchase by the admirers and appreciators of Eva's life and of her work.


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