A comprehensive solo retrospective of the seminal twentieth-century designer Eva Zeisel opens at The Rye Arts Center featuring artworks, objects, designs, and ephemera from her fascinating life and oeuvre. With a professional career that spanned over eighty years, Zeisel aspired to be -- and ultimately became -- designer to the people. Curated by Jeff Taylor and Andrea Megyes, the exhibition opens Sunday, March 15 with a public reception in The Rye Arts Center Gallery, 3-5 pm.
Eva Zeisel was born into a refined and assimilated Jewish family in 1906 Budapest. Planning to become a painter, and not wanting to starve in the garret, she decided to learn pottery to support herself. After completing an apprenticeship in the guild of Chimney Sweeps, Oven Makers, Roof Tilers, Well Diggers and Potters, she constructed a kiln behind the family’s villa, and sold her first pots at a local market when she was eighteen.
Curator Andrea Megyes observes, “When Eva Zeisel became a potter, industrial design didn't exist, and she followed the path that craftsmen had trodden for many centuries in guilds. This proximity to the material gave her an immense sensibility for the clay forms emerging from it, and she never abandoned this sense of tactility in her creative process: when she was over 100 years old and lost most of her eyesight, she was still working with assistants, using her hands to see and shape objects.”
In her early 20s she worked as a product designer for ceramics firms in Germany. In 1932, her thirst for adventure took her to the Soviet Union. She quickly became the Artistic Director of the China & Glass Industry, until she was falsely accused of plotting to kill Stalin, and spent 16 months in Soviet prisons. She was finally deported to Vienna, where she caught the last train to the West before Hitler’s Anschluss.
Zeisel made her way to New York where she began designing anew, and taught Ceramics for Industry in the newly formed department of Industrial Design at Pratt Institute. Curator Jeff Taylor adds, "In her post-War production in the United States, she ultimately achieved what she had aspired to do: to make objects that would be used and loved. She never considered herself an artist but rather a maker of things. She remained eminently humanistic in her approach to design, which set her apart from many of her mid-century competitors.”
Throughout her career her playful search for beauty resulted in sensuous, curvaceous forms that can be found in her vases, tableware, and home furnishings. In 1946, she became the first woman to have a solo design exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, featuring her “Museum Shape” set by Castleton China. She continued to fulfill commissions, creating new forms, until 2011 when her final work was produced at age 105.
Eva Zeisel: Ahead of the Curve will feature works from her entire career, including rarely seen Zsolnay eosin glaze vases, privately owned works from the Zeisel family, and designs currently featured at Design Within Reach, Crate and Barrel, Leucos Lighting, the Neue Galerie, and Eva Zeisel Originals.
The exhibit, made possible through the support of Design Within Reach, is open March 15 –May 22, 2015. The Rye Arts Center is located at 51 Milton Road, Rye. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9 am-5 pm, Saturdays, 9 am-3 pm, and closed Sundays. For more information, visit www.ryeartscenter.org or call 914-967-0700.
CLASSIC CENTURY by Eva Zeisel
Tea Pot – Covered Sugar – Creamer – Covered Vegetable Dish
Fine English Earthenware
Original design: Hallcraft 1952, Hall China Company
Produced by Royal Stafford – England 2004
Photo credit: Northern Counties Photographers 2004/5
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Eva Zeisel, Pink, Green, Purple, Gold, and Blue Vases, 2011.
Earthenware with Zsolnay eosin glaze. Eva Zeisel Legacy Collection
Photo credit: Norbert Barabas, 2011