The End of a Year and the End of a Life: Eva Zeisel

by Margaret Meehan December 31, 2011

Eva Zeisel was a ceramic artist and designer who revolutionized tableware. She died yesterday at 105 after an amazing life that included being falsely accused and imprisoned for 16 months for conspiring to assassinate Stalin.

In 1937 she traveled to Vienna, leaving in 1938 when the Nazis entered Austria, forcing her to emigrate to the United States. In 1939 she started teaching at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and presented ceramics as industrial design. She was a woman after my own heart when teaching the medium’s functional as opposed to sculptural side.

Beauty is captured in her elegant designs spanning a career that lasted over 75 years. Having myself been a student, educated early on in ceramic departments, her work offered the perfect hybrid for me of sculpture and well crafted function — feminine and minimalist at once. Now more of a sculptor working with clay as a material than a medium I feel a debt to her for my continued love of design and clay’s varied and potential forms.

She continued to work almost till the end. There is so much more to tell and you can read all about it in her NYTimes obituary, listen to her on NPR at 98 years old talk about her life or watch this inspiring woman speak about beauty at TED.

It is fitting that she should leave just before the New Year begins, at 105 her full life and legacy is an example for anyone wishing to start 2012 fresh and running. Needless to say she was a favorite of mine and important to my esthetic development. As my friend Nathan said about Nat King Cole, “classy”, she too was classy and will be missed by many. Rest in Peace Eva Zeisel and thank you for your highly functional life populated with such graceful forms.

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