Remembering Eva Zeisel

As she turned 100, this revered designer found new life through her Boston-based grandson.

I met Adam Zeisel about five years ago. He’d just finished up his undergraduate degree at Northeastern and was looking for a way to channel his entrepreneurial interests. So he reached out to his grandmother, Eva, a remarkable woman whose designing career spanned more than seven decades. Eva’s elegant and shapely ceramic pieces were in the permanent collections of museums around the world, including MoMA in NYC.

Adam proposed that he work with her to reissue some of her designs and put new ones into production. At first, the famous designer was reluctant to entrust her brand to the young man. After all, she had high standards—would this neophyte be able to match them? In fact, Adam is extraordinary. He’s kind, patient, and as exacting as she was. Now Eva Zeisel’s work is everywhere, from Design Within Reach to Crate and Barrel. In the fall of 2008, we ran the following story about their collaboration (featuring four exquisite handblown goblets):

Covering Adam and Eva’s venture in Stuff magazine back in May 2011, Cheryl Fenton got a great quote: “I explained to Eva that her designs would be sold over the Internet,” Adam says, recalling the start of their collaboration. “She said, ‘Dear, I am pre-radio. I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.’ It hadn’t occurred to me that ‘Internet’ and ‘computer’ would be hard for her to understand.”

Eva Zeisel died on Friday, December 30, 2011, at the age of 105.

The New York Times ran an obituary that day. Here is an excerpt:

“Ms. Zeisel (pronounced ZY-sel), along with designers like Mary and Russel Wright and Charles and Ray Eames, brought the clean, casual shapes of modernist design into middle-class American homes with furnishings that encouraged a postwar desire for fresh, less formal styles of living.
“Museum,” the porcelain table service that brought Ms. Zeisel national notice, was commissioned by its manufacturer, Castleton China, in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which introduced it in an exhibition in 1946, its first show devoted to a female designer.
Ms. Zeisel’s work, which ultimately spanned nine decades, was at the heart of what the museum promoted as “good design”: domestic objects that were beautiful as well as useful and whose beauty lent pleasure to daily life.
“She brought form to the organicism and elegance and fluidity that we expect of ceramics today, reaching as many people as possible,” said Paola Antonelli, a curator of architecture and design at the museum. “It’s easy to do something stunning that stays in a collector’s cabinet. But her designs reached people at the table, where they gather.”

Though the obit was a fascinating read, it failed to mention the incredible cross-generational story I found so inspirational.

Eva’s work is available everywhere, including Patch NYC in the South End. But you can also buy directly from the website Adam set up to sell the pieces and spread the word about his grandmother: Goodbye, Eva. You will be missed.