Hungarian-born American industrial and ceramic designer Zeisel was born Éva Amália Striker into a well-to-do Jewish family, initially entering the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest in 1923 to study painting. She soon withdrew and decided to become a ceramist. Apprenticed to a journeyman ceramist, she learned the business from the ground up. She worked for the Kispester pottery in Budapest, then in 1927–8 she moved to Germany where she designed tableware products for the Schramberg Majolika Factory. These jobs transformed her from a studio artist who threw pots on a wheel into an industrial designer who could work for companies working on a large scale. She relocated to Berlin in 1930, where the Bauhaus and the Deutsche Werkbund and their approach to decoration and form influenced her. A visit to Ukraine in 1932 encouraged her to move to the USSR, where she held several jobs in the Russian ceramics industry, including designing for the Lomonosov and Dulevo factories, and was soon raised to the role of artistic director of the Soviet China and glass industry.
After a number of difficult times in the politically challenging atmosphere of Russia and then Austria, she moved to America in 1938. In 1939, she began teaching ceramics as industrial design and production at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was soon moving in the Modernist world of design and, in 1940, was recommend by Eliot Noyes, director of the design department of MoMA, to design a set of porcelain for the Castleton China Co. The war delayed production, but in 1946 an exhibition titled New Shapes in Modern China Designed by Eva Zeisel was shown at MoMA, the first one-woman show in that institution.
Zeisel was soon a sought-after designer and produced ranges for the Red Wing Potteries, including the well-known Town and Country in 1945 and Tomorrow’s Classic for Hall China in 1949–50. The Town and Country ware demonstrated her approach to design that avoided the geometries of Bauhaus-inspired modernism and engaged with the more organic shapes of the 1950s. The forms of the Town and Country pieces appear to have organic, even human-like qualities, especially in their nesting arrangement and Zeisel compared them to a mother with her children, or as a group of sociable beings. They also have a resemblance to the works of sculptors Hans Arp and Henry Moore.
She continued to design and in 1964 she exhibited a metal chair, which was displayed to noteworthy praise at the Milan Triennale, but was never put into production. She also worked with a number of international ceramic companies including Rosenthal, Noritake, and Zsolnay. In 1984, the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts organized a retrospective touring exhibition Eva Zeisel: Designer for Industry. Her work is included in the permanent collections of museums worldwide, including MoMA, the Met, and the V&A. In 2003, she designed a new porcelain tea service for the Lomonosov factory, and in 2004, the Royal Stafford Company reissued the Classic Century range based on the original moulds. In 2004, she was made an honorary Royal Designer for Industry at the age of 98, and the following year she was awarded the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Cooper–Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.
See also Bauhaus; Cooper–Hewitt Museum, New York; Hungarian Design; Imperial (Lomonosov) Porcelain Factory; Milan Triennale; Modern Movement; Modernism; Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA); National Design Awards (USA); Eliot Noyes; Organic Design; Pratt Institute; Rosenthal; Royal Designer for Industry; Russian Design.