Émigré Cultures in Design and Architecture
Émigré Cultures in Design and Architecture

Alison J. Clarke

Alison J. Clarke is Professor of Design History and Theory, Director of the Victor J. Papanek Foundation at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Elana Shapira

Elana Shapira is a lecturer of design history and theory, and a senior researcher in the Émigré Cultural Networks project at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Austria. She is the author of the forthcoming title Style and Seduction: Jewish Patrons and Modern Architecture and Design in Fin de Siècle Vienna. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2017


Content Type:

Book Chapter



Schools, Movements and Styles:

Modernism and Design



Related Content

Eva Zeisel: Gender, Design, Modernism

DOI: 10.5040/9781474275637.ch-007
Page Range: 105–120

A major figure in twentieth-century design, especially for mass-produced domestic tablewares, Eva Zeisel (Figure 6.1) was born in Hungary in 1906 into an haute bourgeois family of intellectual distinction, and died over a century later in the United States, the country to which she emigrated in 1938. She did not take the name Zeisel until she married Hans Zeisel in 1938, but for the sake of consistency I refer to her as Zeisel throughout this chapter. As a case study of an émigré designer, this differs from many others for two main reasons. First, it focuses on a woman whose career was at once groundbreaking and orthodox in gender terms, and in this chapter I consider her strong female role models, the gendered nature of pottery making when she trained in a male-dominated guild system, her experiences as a designer, and how she juggled work, marriage, and motherhood. Secondly, it focuses on a designer who criticized the interwar European Modern Movement in architecture and design, and thus it offers a means of reviewing design of both the interwar and postwar periods through lenses other than that of the Modern Movement. It also raises the question of Jewishness, a category often referred to during discussions of European émigré designers. Although her family lineage was Jewish on both sides, the two most dominant influences during her formative years, her maternal grandmother and her mother, both considered Judaism a religion to which they did not subscribe. They did not think of themselves as Jewish, and Zeisel grew up thinking the same way.

Figure 6.1. Photo of Eva Zeisel, c. 2000. Courtesy Brigitte Lacombe.

Summary of life and work

Ziesel enjoyed a privileged upbringing amid freethinking intellectual circles in the twin capital cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Budapest and Vienna. Talented at art as a child, she trained as a painter, with private tutors and at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, and initially only took up pottery to support a future career in art. The first woman journeyman potter trained in a Budapest-based craft guild, she worked briefly in that capacity in the mid-1920s in a small workshop in Germany before focusing on design. Her understanding of the craft of pottery served her well during her long career. She enjoyed feeling the clays that would give form to her designs, and her tacit understanding of clay was akin to her maternal uncle, a physical chemist, economist, and philosopher, Michael Polanyi’s understanding of the importance of tacit (as opposed to explicit) knowledge.[1] She gained experience of designing for industrial production when working in Germany from 1928 to 1931 and even more in the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1936. In the latter, she inspected ceramics and glass factories in the Ukraine, worked in the Artistic Laboratory at the Lomonosov State Porcelain Factory in Leningrad, and served as artistic director of the Dulevo Porcelain Factory, the largest ceramics manufactory in the USSR, and then of the ceramics and glass industries of the whole of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the largest of the republics within the Soviet Union. Her Dulevo tableware sets that combined clean modern design with traditional and classic shapes were exhibited at the 1937 Paris International Exposition, winning two Grand Prix,[2] but she knew nothing about it because by then she was incarcerated in a Soviet jail, having been accused (wrongfully) of plotting to assassinate none other than Joseph Stalin.[3] It seemed almost certain that she would be executed or “disappeared,” as were so many during Stalin’s infamous “Purges,” but without explanation or reprieve, in September 1937, after sixteen months in prison (much of it in solitary confinement) and in a fragile state, mentally and physically, she was expelled and put on a train bound for Vienna where several of her family members were living. She became engaged to Hans Zeisel, a young Czech-born socialist lawyer and sociologist who moved in the same circles as her uncle Karl Polanyi (later famous in economic history and economic anthropology). Zeisel fell in love with her in Berlin in the early 1930s when he was part of the circle around her earlier-mentioned uncle Michael Polanyi. Within six months of her arrival in Austria, however, she chose voluntary exile upon learning of the German-Austrian Anschluss in March 1938. Amid rampant anti-Semitism and a growing Austrian Nazi Party, and still frail from her months in a Soviet prison, she feared she might go mad if arrested again. The family had already applied for US visas, but, with only her visa for Britain in place, she left for there on one of the last trains out of the city before German troops arrived. Her mother and fiancé stayed behind to arrange the necessary visas. After marrying in London, Eva and Hans Zeisel arrived in New York in October of 1938. Her mother managed to follow in 1939; her father in 1941.

With less than $100, the couple settled in New York. Zeisel had no contacts in her line of work but, ever proactive, she immediately set about finding them by combing the pages of the ceramics trade journals housed at the New York Public Library. She took any job that came her way, including making plaster mountains for a film set at 50 cents an hour, and in autumn 1939 began teaching ceramics with an industrial design focus at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In 1940, she established a good rapport with Eliot Noyes, director of the department of industrial design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, who brokered a collaborative commission for her with the museum and Castleton China. That project and the resulting MoMA exhibition, New Shapes in Modern China Designed by Eva Zeisel (1946), which featured the elegant, fluid curves of her Museum fine dinnerware (Figure 6.2), transformed her into “an accepted first-class designer, rather than a run-of-the-mill designer.”[4] The first MoMA exhibition to feature a single-woman designer and the first devoted solely to industrially mass-produced pottery, it followed on from MoMA’s exhibition of industrially mass-produced molded plywood furniture by the fledgling Eames Office.[5] Several of Zeisel’s lines proved very popular in the 1950s, including Tomorrow’s Classic (1952) for Hall China Company,[6] and her earnings from royalties in the early 1950s were estimated to be at least $600–$700 a month.[7]

Figure 6.2. Eva Zeisel, Items from Museum service: Castleton China Company, USA, 1946; MoMA exhibition, New Shapes in Modern China, designed by Eva Zeisel, 1946. Courtesy Brent C. Brolin.

She became the leading designer of mass-produced ceramic tableware in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s. During that period she also designed for companies in Mexico, Germany, Italy, India, and Japan, although not all those projects were realized. The near collapse of the US ceramics industry in the face of foreign competition, however, led to commissions drying up, followed by a twenty-year break in her career from the mid-1960s. Always full of energy and ideas, she undertook a variety of new occupations, from silkscreen printing and building a small house to undertaking historical research and writing (never published) about a group of African-Americans falsely arrested and either hanged or deported in the 1740s; the parallel with her own situation in the Soviet Union was not lost on her.[8] Spurred on by the research being undertaken for a major retrospective of her work,[9] she resumed designing from 1983 until very shortly before her death aged 105. Drawing upon her European roots, she revisited her native Hungary in 1983 and worked with staff at the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufactory to create new lustrous glazes for vases, jars, and candlesticks.[10] At the Kispester Granit Pottery, also in Hungary, where she had worked briefly in 1926, her prototypes for the Ufo line creatively and playfully reengaged with forms and technical issues that had fascinated her in earlier years, including distorting circles, sphere, and balloon forms.[11] The line did not go into production, partly because of Zeisel’s insistence on high production standards, but in 2009 the US company Design Within Reach revived some of the pieces, including plates with playful “bellybutton” middles, as its Granit Collection.[12]

When the traveling exhibition Eva Zeisel: Designer for Industry was shown at St. Petersburg’s State Russian Museum in 1992, the accompanying Russian-language catalog reattributed some of Zeisel’s Soviet designs to her, thus beginning the process of reintegrating her into the history of Soviet ceramics.[13] In 2000, she received an invitation to visit the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory in the former Soviet Union but insisted upon an official rehabilitation before accepting. Once there, she began working on what would become the elegantly fluid and near-translucent Talisman tea service (2004) in collaboration with a highly skilled young Russian modeler who spent the summer of 2002 in the United States developing the line with her.[14] As in earlier years, rounded “feminine curves” featured in her design vocabulary throughout her later period, witness, for example, the ceramic and glass vases she designed for KleinReid in 1992[15] and the glass ones for Gump a decade later,[16] as well as her glass Christmas ornaments (2009) for MoMA’s gift store. Rugs to her designs were produced in 2008, while her glass pendant lamps for Leucos (2012) came on the market after her death, as did her EVA flatware by Yamazaki Tableware, Japan, that retailed through the North American store Crate & Barrel.[17] Fulfilling commissions for companies in the United States, Hungary, England, Russia, and Italy, she was regarded as something of a superstar and a national treasure during the last decades of her life.

A modern, progressive, feminist formation

Zeisel always thought of herself as working in a modern way and recalled being conscious from about the age of six of the modernity of the world into which she had been born.[18] Like many others, her family members believed that the new century would build upon the great progress made during the previous century, and regarded children born in the new century as both privileged and symbolic of the future. The second child of three, she was the only daughter of Laura Polanyi Stricker (1882–1959), a social democratic feminist intellectual and activist with interests in history, social science, education, and Freudian psychology, and Alexander (Sandor) Stricker (1869–1955), a textile manufacturer who did not share his wife’s interests but allowed her considerable scope to pursue them while providing the financial means. The Strickers lived in Budapest, where Zeisel’s Russian-born grandmother Cecile Wohl Pollacsek Polanyi (1861–1939; Polanyi being the Magyarized version of Pollacsek), presided over an influential salon that Zeisel described as attracting “all the intellectual people … journalists, actors, writers, and painters.”[19] Zeisel described her bohemian grandmother as having radical politics and cropped hair, always full of new ideas, and “very much part of the early feminist movement in Central Europe.”[20] Her maternal grandfather, Mihály Pollacsek (1848–1905), a Hungarian Jew who shared many of Cecile’s radical ideas, refused to Magyarize the family, believing it was demeaning to have to prove a Hungarian identity in that manner, but, around the time of his death in 1905, Cecile did so. Officially at least, she adopted a Protestant Christianity but there is no evidence of her children being brought up in any religion.[21] In the United States, however, Laura Stricker suggested to Zeisel that they join the Unitarian Church to help settle in the United States in order to have a sense of home in the new country for the family, especially the children.[22] Strong in Hungary, Unitarianism was a logical choice because it was associated with the Free Thinking movement with which the Polanyi family was closely connected. Based upon a belief in a unitary God, religious freedom, and social justice, it encompasses a wide range of beliefs, including, in theory, atheism. An avowed atheist Hans Zeisel refused to join, even though the two Zeisel children attended Unitarian Sunday School and his wife and mother-in-law remained members until they died.

With two strong-minded feminists in her life, little wonder that Zeisel grew up believing that she could accomplish whatever she set her sights on. From as early as she could remember, her mother was active in feminist and intellectual circles, writing and lecturing on topics such as “Women of the Intellectual Middle Class” and “Feminism and Marriage,” and, had the bourgeois democratic Hungarian People’s Republic (October 1918–March 1919) lasted long enough to hold free national elections, she would have stood as a member of parliament on a liberal, radical, and feminist ticket.[23] An academic star, Stricker was the first woman to hold a doctorate in history at the University of Budapest. She was also part of the movement to validate the social sciences as a discipline.[24] Zeisel liked to tell of Freud referring to her mother as the “most beautiful and interesting Dr. Stricker,”[25] and Freud’s influence helps account for the focus on unfettered free expression, including nudity, at the progressive kindergarten that Laura Stricker established in 1911 for Eva and elder brother along with about ten others. Photographs of the kindergarten show children either naked or in gym suits, barefoot and happily dancing, doing eurythmics (the expression of sounds and music through body movements), painting, drawing, and enjoying nature. Some progressives were shocked by the nudity but Zeisel loved it.[26] The emphasis on self-expression and play almost certainly helped form, and certainly encouraged, Zeisel’s playfulness, a characteristic that her mother felt was Zeisel’s most distinctive. Little wonder Zeisel expressed her aesthetic inclinations as a “playful search for beauty.”[27]

A modernist with a small “m”

Although Zeisel differed from many in the Polanyi clan by standing aside from political and intellectual engagement, she shared their antagonism to established orthodoxies. Just as communism was too dogmatic for her mother and her uncles, Michael and Karl Polanyi, the Modern Movement, often known as Modernism, was too dogmatic for her.

Modernism grew out of several overlapping progressive and avant-garde trends in Europe, from Russian Constructivism and De Stijl in Holland to the Bauhaus in Germany and architect designers such as the Swiss born but French based Le Corbusier, who famously described a house as a “machine à habiter” (machine for living in). Modernists with a capital “M” took a rationalist, functionalist, and problem solving approach to design, and advocated using new materials, new technologies, and industrial mass production to produce objects and buildings appropriate for what they considered the new “Machine Age.”[28] While welcoming the agenda of affordable mass-produced goods and homes and believing that, with sufficient goodwill and rational intelligence, the world could become a better place, Zeisel’s conception of design was far broader and she always insisted that she was “a modernist with a small ‘m’.”[29] She felt Modernism offered neither “amusement nor beauty”[30] and failed to establish emotional and psychological links between object and user. She declared the rejection of sentiment and the S-curve (which she felt the most communicative of lines) to be ludicrous and Modernists to be narrow minded, elitist, antihistoricist, and overly focused on form following function.[31] She ridiculed the movement’s didacticism, the so-called functionalist or “Machine Age” aesthetic, and the claim that style had disappeared, believing that Modernism limited a designer’s choices from the outset, whereas in reality there was a multitude of attractive solutions to each problem.[32]

One reason why Zeisel rejected Modernism was her deep appreciation of the visual and material culture of the past, especially the Baroque period that directly influenced her own work. Extremely well educated, she had a very thorough training in the history of art, design and architecture, perhaps more so than any other designer working in a modern mode in the postwar United States. One of her tutors was the young Frederick Antal, a Marxist art historian who moved in the same intellectual circles as Karl Polanyi, and the Marxist critic and philosopher Georg Lukács. Antal argued that a society’s visual and material culture was closely related to its social and economic contexts, a viewpoint Zeisel embraced thereafter.[33] Her love of the Baroque partly came from visiting Baroque churches and monasteries with Antal and others in Austria during her preteen years when the family lived in Vienna (1912–1918), but the Baroque was everywhere apparent throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including folk art and crafts. Much of her later work was imbued with Baroque curves, right through to Eva Zeisel Coffeee Table (c. 1993: Figure 6.3) and Trestle Table (1994–1996) that refer back to her bird forms in pottery and plastic (Figure 6.4) as well as to Central European Baroque forms.[34]

Figure 6.3. Eva Zeisel, Coffee table, USA, c. 1993. Courtesy of Eva Zeisel Originals.evazeiseloriginals.com.
Figure 6.4. Eva Zeisel, Schmidt ironstone: Nihon Koshitsu Toki Company, Japan, 1964.

Zeisel was not alone in her criticisms of Modernism but her articulation of design as a “playful search for Beauty” and a gift given with love, and of the need to make “soul contact” with users, was distinctive, possibly unique.[35] Even though she admired certain Modernist designs, including Le Corbusier’s L’Esprit Nouveau pavilion at the 1925 Paris Exposition, her memoirs (written in English) refer to the latter’s “festive, holier-than-though simplicity,” and it seeming to be “so untouched, clean, and elegant that I felt I had entered a realm beyond my everyday untidy ways” indicates such design was too purist for her.[36] In the last quarter of the twentieth century, she celebrated postmodern designers undertaking their own playful searches for beauty, and, on the eve of the millennium, predicted an increased focus within design on beauty, freedom, exuberance, elegance, refinement, lightheartedness, delight, and desire.[37]

New beginnings and design vocabulary

Her early years in the United States coincided with a greater receptivity to the fluid, plastic, compound curves, and amoeba-like and biomorphic forms sometimes known as Organic Modernism that drew upon, among other things, influences from abstract art, Surrealism, and Nature.[38] Among the noted figures working in this way was the Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto and the Americans Charles and Ray Eames and Russel Wright. Together with Zeisel, the latter brought organic forms to tablewares, just as the Eameses’ compound curved plywood and plastic chairs and Eero Saarinen’s sculptural “Womb Chair” (1946–1948) did for furniture. While Zeisel’s Museum line was an essay in elegant fluidity, it was always envisaged as formal dinnerware, whereas her highly organic plastic Cloverware line (1947) for Clover Box and Manufacturing Company and her sturdier, colorful mix-and-match Town and Country line (1947) were designed for younger consumers seeking more informal modes of living. Many of the curves apparent in Zeisel’s postwar designs were rooted in the Baroque forms she knew in Central Europe, just as her Museum and Talisman lines were informed by the refined Russian eighteenth-century porcelain she came to love in the Soviet Union. Her continuing playfulness fitted in with the more lighthearted mood of postwar consumers, as for example, the anthropomorphic references in her “mother and daughter” salt-and-pepper shakers and her Cloverware salad servers that looked like birds with beaks open, while several of the dishes, covers, and ladles in her stoneware lines of the 1950s and 1960s resembled ducks, swans, and geese.[39] Nature in all its forms inspired her throughout her life. The “back to nature” movement with which she identified as a teenager was part of the “simple life” advocated by Arts and Crafts Movement followers. The young Zeisel was fascinated by folk art and crafts, and in the 1950s and 1960s she drew upon Hungarian folk traditions when designing stonewares. Her reply “Love is a personal matter” when asked what “Good Design” was at a roundtable held at MoMA in the 1950s testifies to her continuing distance from Modernism,[40] and student exercises aimed at expressing emotions through their work indicate her continuing interest in that aspect of design.[41] Many who bought pieces that she designed felt intimate connections to them. This, together with her versatility across media and ability to create pieces for both formal and informal living, help account for her massive commercial success, as does the emphasis on practicality and functionality that lasted throughout her career. In the manner of the publications emanating from the German Werkbund and similar institutions across Europe in the interwar years, she decreed that teapots had to pour well and not feel too heavy when full, while handles and cutlery had to feel comfortable in the hand. Her various approaches to design and making fit well with a booming US economy gearing up for a massive increase in consumption after economic depression and war.[42]


The young Zeisel was fortunate in that her family accepted her desire to be an artist, train as a potter, and then work as a designer in factories because many middle- and upper-class young girls faced stiff opposition to such.[43] In later years she did not like to be thought of as a woman designer, preferring to be known simply as a designer. She felt that she had not been discriminated against in terms of gender as a designer, pointing out that in the interwar years in Europe, the main designers in the Kunstgewerbe (“applied arts”) workshops and small factories were young women like herself from respectable middle or upper-class backgrounds. “[We] did not consider our job either very important or pushing us into the limelight of art history,” she commented, “We were just young ladies, not very high employees in our factories. So our job, making things for others, is a generous occupation, an occupation of giving our gifts to our public.”[44] She also felt that most probably women designers were advantaged when it came to designing household objects because they related to and understood the domestic arena, pointing to her own designs for a child’s feeding bottle when her children were young.[45] When I asked her if this notion of women as better suited to particular types of design than men smacked of essentialism, she stated that it was simply a reflection of how things were organized within society.[46]

At the craft level, as opposed to design, Zeisel’s experiences highlight the gendered nature of pottery craft training and making in interwar Central Europe. The Budapest-based Guild of Chimney-Sweeps, Well Diggers and Potters did not train young women, especially not refined young girls such as Zeisel, but neither she nor her mother accepted this situation.[47] Just as her mother had insisted that her daughter have the best education open to a girl, she now insisted that Zeisel had the best craft training available. Quite how the family managed to persuade a master potter to take on a young girl in a formal apprenticeship is not known but her mother’s determination, to say nothing of Zeisel’s own, surely played a part, and possibly a larger-than-normal apprenticeship premium. In autumn 1924, Zeisel began a six-month apprenticeship registered and overseen within the guild regulations. She learned to “mush” clay with bare feet, and to knead and “mangle” it until ready to be worked, as well as to make pots by hand, glaze them, dry them outdoors, and set ovens.[48] As the first woman journeyman in the guild, she was a pioneer but the guild system was already in considerable decline; apprenticeships had typically been seven years in the eighteenth century, for example, compared to six months in the mid-1920s.[49] When Zeisel told the tale of her four male coworkers in a small German workshop placing a model of male genitalia on her bench on her first day as a journeyman potter, she stressed the men accepting her thereafter because of how nonchalantly she dealt with the situation. The gesture may have been more than a traditional first day prank, however, and was probably also rooted in anxieties about women, whose wages were lower than men’s wages, diluting the trade and threatening men with lower wages, if not unemployment, in a volatile German economy. Whatever the case, Zeisel did not work as a journeyman for long. She proved unable to make large numbers of uniformly shaped pots by hand (on a potter’s wheel) and soon focused on the more gender appropriate area of design.[50]

Although the mass production of ceramic tablewares was a male-dominated industry in the postwar United States, Zeisel never felt discriminated against as a woman. Indeed, her knowledge of craft and industrial processes earned her a great deal of respect, while as a freelance designer she had more independence than staff designers. She fought ferociously for the integrity of her designs and the quality of the products and must surely have tried the patience of more than one managing director but her Museum line and her best-selling lines, such as those for Hall in the 1950s, showed that her name and talents could raise the profile of a company and significantly increase its profits. One of the few times that she experienced discrimination as a woman during her career in the United States took place outside the ceramics industry and related to a technical matter during the development of her Resilient Chair (c. 1950), for which she held a technical patent relating to the folding metal frame. Zeisel designed and helped to make the die for this complex frame but when the die was sent to a metal manufacturer in Iowa, the factory foreman, in the belief that no woman could possibly design a proper die, began fiddling with it, only to end up ruining it, thus bringing this expensive development project to a halt.[51]

Although she managed to escape discrimination during her career as a designer, she experienced it in her private life when her career ambitions clashed with those of Hans Zeisel. Talking about women juggling marriage and motherhood with work, she stated, “I don’t know how other women managed it. Hans thought my work should be second to his.”[52] Used to following her own interests and ambitions Zeisel found that during her marriage to Hans Zeisel she had much less freedom of choice than when single or when married (briefly and without children) to the Austrian-born Communist physicist Alexander Weissberg when living in the Soviet Union. Hans Zeisel had enjoyed a successful career in Europe in the social science and legal studies and, understandably, wanted to continue working, preferably as an academic or researcher. In the postwar United States, most bourgeois wives, including those in liberal intellectual circles, were expected to put their husband’s careers before their own, or to sacrifice their career ambitions and dedicate themselves to home, family, and child care. At first, however, Zeisel resurrected her career more effectively than her husband, and, in what was never an easy marriage, these two strong characters clashed over their careers as early as 1940 when she was offered a marvelous job in West Virginia in 1940. The distinguished potter Frederick Rhead, vice president of the Homer Laughlin China Company, offered her the opportunity to work for a major ceramics company and establish herself as a major designer. She was keen but turned down the job because her husband did not want to move to a location where there would be far fewer job opportunities for him and she was pregnant with their first child.[53] Moreover, when he was offered an academic job at the University of Chicago, Illinois, in 1953, he accepted it without consulting her. She pointed out that Chicago was not a good base for her career and that she had a good part-time teaching job and a well-established design studio in New York. In order to keep the family together, however, she reluctantly agreed to move with Jean aged 13 and John aged 9. The couple’s move to Illinois accorded with gender normative expectations but, even before she challenged them in a major way by moving herself and the children back to New York a year later, she accepted a job some 200 miles from Chicago (at Western Stoneware Company’s division in Monmouth, Illinois) which necessitated her staying near the factory for long stretches of time. She only managed to do this job because her parents came to stay in Chicago for extended periods to help look after the children, who stayed with her in Monmouth during the school holidays. By the beginning of the 1954/1955 school year, she and the children were back in New York. With the help of her mother and other childcare networks, she reopened her studio and hired new assistants. Although Hans Zeisel tried to spend about one week a month in New York with the family, for much of the 1950s and 1960s she effectively lived, for the most part, as a single working mother in a city far away from the one in which her husband pursued his career. Many professional couples live this way today, but over sixty years ago it was quite unusual, even in New York’s Upper West Side and faculty circles at the University of Chicago. One might say that, without setting out to be so, the Zeisels helped pioneer the postwar two-career, two-city family.

Unlike many women of her age, or even younger, who felt that it was somehow unfeminine to be outspokenly feminist, Zeisel was tremendously proud of the feminist activism of her maternal grandmother and mother during the so-called “First Wave” feminism before and after the First World War. Proud of her pioneering relatives, she was happy to be included in exhibitions of “pioneer” women designers, stating “being what some people call a ‘pioneer’ does not mean you have to have experienced discrimination; it is doing something that not many others do or have done.”[54] This said, partly because she felt that many of the battles for equality with men had been won already by women such as her mother and grandmother, and partly because she stood aside from most organized movements, Zeisel kept a distance from the feminist movement that began in the late 1960s and gained enormous momentum in the 1970s.


Given the examples cited here from Zeisel’s life and work, including growing up with outspoken adults challenging taboos and orthodoxies, from her mother challenging attitudes toward nudity and free expression in children’s education at the kindergarten, or standing up for women’s rights, to her grandmother’s feminism and associations with radicals and revolutionaries in exile from Russia after the 1905 Revolution, and Polanyi family members espousing the ideals of the Free Thinking movement, Zeisel’s confidence and challenging of orthodoxies fall into context. Her creative license came courtesy of her mother and grandmother, and her own free-thinking and free-spirited approach to life and work paralleled the free thinking of not only those women but also her Polanyi uncles and others in their intellectual circles. Unlike them and her mother, she did not try to make sense of the world on a grand scale, standing aside from such things while concentrating on practicing design in the form of a gift in the hope of affecting people at a personal level and making “soul contact” through the objects of everyday life.

[1] Tanya Harrod, “Eva Zeisel Obituary: Industrial Designer Known for Her Ceramic Tableware,” The Guardian, January 15, 2012, http:/www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/jan/15/evazeisel.

[2] Karen L. Kettering, “Lomonosov State Porcelain Factory, Dulevo Porcelain Factory,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Pat Kirkham (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2013), 56–63.

[3] Jean Richards and Brent C. Brolin, eds., Eva Zeisel: A Soviet Prison Memoir (New York: eBook, 2012).

[4] Mary Whitman Davis, “Castleton China Company: Museum,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 68, 66–73.

[5] Pat Kirkham, ed., “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, 9–43.

[6] Earl Martin, “Hall China Company: Hallcraft Tomorrow’s Classic,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 96–101.

[7] Lucy Young, Eva Zeisel (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2003).

[8] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[9] Martin Eidelberg et al., Eva Zeisel: Designer for Industry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

[10] Tom Tredway, “Zsolnay Porcelain Manufactory,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 126–129.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Tom Tredway, “Design within Reach: Granit Collection,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 142–145.

[13] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[14] Karen L. Kettering, “Lomonosov Porcelain Factory: Talisman,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 138–139.

[15] Horst Ullrich, “KleinReid,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 132–135. Ray Ledda, “Glass,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 146–153.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ronald T. Labaco, “‘The Playful Search for Beauty’: Eva Zeisel’s Life in Design,” in Women Designers in the USA, 1900–2000, ed. Pat Kirkham and Ella Howard, Special Issue, Studies in the Decorative Arts 8, no.1 (Fall/Winter 2000–2001): 130.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Judith Szapor, The Hungarian Pocahontas: The Life and Times of Laura Polanyi Stricker, 1882–1959 (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs: New York, Distributed by Columbia University Press, 2005).

[22] Jean Richards, to Pat Kirkham, email March 20, 2016.

[23] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[24] Szapor, The Hungarian Pocahontas.

[25] Labaco, “The Playful Search for Beauty,” 130.

[26] Szapor, The Hungarian Pocahontas. Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[27] Labaco, “The Playful Search for Beauty,” 126.

[28] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[29] Eva Zeisel to Pat Kirkham and Ronald T. Labaco, February 18, 1999.

[30] Labaco, “The Playful Search for Beauty,” 138.

[31] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ted Wells, “Furniture,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 154–159.

[35] For “playful search for beauty,” see Eva Zeisel to Pat Kirkham and Ronald T. Labaco, February 18, 1999; for “soul contact” see “Die Künsterlin hat das Wort,” Die Schaulade 8 (February 1932): 173.

[36] Eva Zeisel, “Early Autobiography,” n.d., Eva Zeisel Archive (in care of Jean Richards), 1.

[37] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[38] Brooke Kamin Rappaport and Kevin Stayton, eds., Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940–1960 (New York: Harry N. Abrams and Brooklyn Museum of Art, 2001).

[39] Antay S. Bilgutay, “Clover Box and Manufacturing Company: Cloverware,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 84–87. Scott Vermillion, “Eva Zeisel Stoneware and Ironstone,” in Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, ed. Kirkham, 102–109.

[40] Labaco, “The Playful Search for Beauty,” 127.

[41] Martin Eidelberg, with Derek Ostergaard, and Jennifer Toller, “Eva Zeisel: Ceramist in an Industrial Age,” in Eva Zeisel: Designer for Industry, Eidelberg et al., 13–71.

[42] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[43] Pat Kirkham, ed., Women Designers in the U.S.A. 1900–2000: Diversity and Difference (New Haven, MA: Yale University Press, 2000). Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011,” 9–43.

[44] Eva Zeisel, “About Berlin 1930–31,” n.d., Eva Zeisel Archive (in care of Jean Richards), 3.

[45] Labaco, “The Playful Search for Beauty,” 125–138. Jean Richards, to Pat Kirkham, email March 20, 2016.

[46] Eva Zeisel to Pat Kirkham and Ronald T. Labaco, February 18, 1999.

[47] Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Jean Richards, to Pat Kirkham, email March 20, 2016.

[52] Young, Eva Zeisel, 20.

[53] Young, Eva Zeisel. Kirkham, “Eva Zeisel: Design Legend 1906–2011.”

[54] Eva Zeisel to Pat Kirkham and Ronald T. Labaco, February 18, 1999.