Born in Budapest in 1906,
Eva Stricker entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at age 17, 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. Just a year after that her work was displayed at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial, where she won an honorable mention. By then she was working as a designer in the Kispester Factory in Budapest. She then advertised in the trade 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 and at the same time increase her skills. She moved to Schramberg,
Germany, where she acquired skills in all
phases of industrial production and became one of
the first (and certainly the first woman) to
move the ceramic arts into contemporary mass
Eva Zeisel in Budapest with photo of her mother, Laura Polanyi Stricker, who was a world-famous scholar and writer.
She later moved to Berlin and to other factories in Hamburg and throughout Europe. In 1932 she went to Russia on vacation in order to experience the new artistic and social movements there, as did many other idealistic young artists and intellectuals. As an experienced industrial designer she was soon offered 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 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.
Schramberg tea set & cake plate
In 1936, however, she was caught up in one of the Stalinist purges, accused of plotting against the life of Stalin. She 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.)
Then one day she was unexpectedly led out of her cell to what she feared was to be her execution but was instead 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. (More details of Zeisel's Russian experience at our Membership Benefits page.)
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. In 1938 they went to New York where they settled permanently.
In 1939 she created the department of ceramic arts industrial design at Pratt Institute in
Brooklyn, where she taught until 1952.
One of her first designs in the U.S. was for Sears, Roebuck. She has since designed for Hall China, Red Wing China, Castleton China, Norleans Meito (Japan), Western
Stoneware, Hyalyn, Phillip Rosenthal (Germany), Mancioli
(Italy), Federal Glass, Heisey
Glass, Noritake (Japan), Nikkon Toki (Japan), and almost too many others to mention.
Eva Zeisel received many honors for her
outstanding achievements, beginning with her
selection in 1942 by the Museum of Modern Art in
New York, to design a line of fine porcelain dinnerware for
the Castleton China Company of Pennsylvania. The designs
were not completed and produced until 1945, due
to wartime restriction, but were presented at a
one-woman show at MoMA in 1947.
Her works are in the permanent collections of Brohan
Museum, Germany; the British Museum; The
Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Musée
des Arts Décoratifs de Montréal; The Museum of
Modern Art, New York, and the Brooklyn, Metropolitan,
Dallas, Knoxville, Milwaukee, Hillwood
(Washington, D.C.), the Erie (NY), and Mingei
International (San Diego) museums in the United
States, among others. She had
retrospective exhibitions in dozens of museums
in the U.S. and abroad and has lectured widely.
works, some no longer in production, include designs for Zsolnay Factory
in Pecs and Kispester-Granit in Budapest,
Hungary, as well as the American firms of
Nambe, Orange Chicken Gallery, MGlass and Acme Studios. The Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan
Museum and other fine organizations have issued
new releases of some of her early designs in new
glazes and colors, that were supervised by
Zeisel. To celebrate her 100th
birthday, Zeisel designed her first
teakettle, for Chantal, of Texas. Zeisel's late work includes offerings by
KleinReid, Design Within Reach, The Rug Company, Neue Galerie, Gump's, Trikeenan Tileworks, Eva Zeisel Originals, and Royal Stafford (Century Classic, carried by Crate and Barrel; 101 Dinnerware, formerly carried by Bloomingdales's).
- 1982 she received a senior award from the
National Endowments for the Arts and was the
subject of a touring exhibition sponsored by the
Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition
Service and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs de
Montréal, in 1984.
- 1988 - Zeisel was awarded an honorary
doctorate by the Royal College of Arts,
- 1991 - awarded an honorary doctorate by
the Parson New School, New
- 1998 - received the Binns Medal from the
New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University
NY, for Excellence in Ceramic
- 2000 - received the Industrial Design
Society of America Bronze Apple Award.
- 2001 - made an Honorary Member of the
American Ceramics Society.
- 2001 - a street in Schramberg , Germany
- 2002 - given the Living Legend Award at
Pratt Institute, New
- 2002 - received the Russell Wright
Award for Design
- 2004 - Awarded the Middle Cross of the
Order of Merit of the Republic of
- awarded an honorary doctorate from the
University of Craft and Design, Budapest,
Republic of Hungary
- 2004 - named an Honorary Royal Designer
by the Royal Designers for Industry, London, a
part of the Royal Society of Arts (the highest
award given to a non-British
- 2005 - given an honorary doctorate from
the Rhode Island School of
- received the Cooper-Hewitt National Design
Award for Lifetime Achievement, followed by
- 2006 - luncheon at the White House with
- 2006 - received a Lifetime Achievement
Award from Bon Appetit Magazine
a detailed chronology of Zeisel's life, see EvaStrickerZeiselChronology
Feb. 2, 2012