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Eva Zeisel Papers

 Collection
Identifier: MC-024

Scope and Contents

The Eva Zeisel Papers consist of personal and teaching materials from the ceramicist Eva Zeisel, who taught in the Industrial Design department of the School of Art and Design at Pratt Institute from 1939 to 1954. The resources in this collection pertain to Zeisel’s teaching and design philosophy, especially in its relation to the production of ceramics. There are also several examples of student work, including photographs and ceramics pieces, as well as correspondence from former students. Through these materials, the extent of influence Zeisel had on her students becomes apparent.

Several of Zeisel's students who went on to have successful careers in design are mentioned throughout this collection. These include Francis E. Blod, Gerald Gulotta, Ilse Meissner Reese, William H. Bowers, and Ben Seibel.

Papers that are fragile have been enclosed in mylar sleeves. Many of the materials are reproductions. Several materials contain notes from Zeisel's daughter Jean Richards, who donated materials to this collection in 2018. Ceramic works are fragile and should be handled with care.

Dates

  • 1939 - 2011
  • Majority of material found within 1939 - 1954

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, contact Pratt Institute Archives, Pratt Institute Libraries.

Biographical / Historical

Éva Amália Striker Zeisel was born on November 13, 1906 in Budapest, Hungary.

In 1928, after working for two years in handicrafts, she began developing ceramic designs for mass production at the Schramberg Earthenware Factory in Germany. In 1931, she lived in Berlin and worked for Christian Carstens Co., an earthenware factory in Bavaria. In Berlin she was surrounded by friends like Arthur Koestler, Anna Seghels, Leo Szilard, Michael Polanyi and Victor Weisskopf. In 1932, she decided to take a two week trip to the Soviet Union and ended up staying there for over five years.

In the Soviet Union, she worked for the Lomonosov Factory in Leningrad in 1933 and then for Dulevo in 1934. At Dulevo, one of the world’s largest porcelain factories, she organized a department for experimental design. In 1935 and 1936, she acted as the art director of the china and glass industry of the Russian Republic in Moscow, and traveled to various factories throughout the country. In 1936, she was arrested for having “successfully” prepared an attempted assassination of Stalin. This was at the beginning of the purges, during which millions of innocent people were arrested. After sixteen months in prison, she was expelled to Vienna. She left Vienna six months later when Hitler entered Austria, and settled in London for a few months.

Zeisel arrived in the United States in October 1938 and began designing for several firms, including Sears, Roebuck, Co., Red Wing and others. From 1939 to 1954, she taught at Pratt Institute in the Industrial Design Department. She was introduced to Pratt by Carl Johnson, who she worked with at the Pratt Shop. She was invited to write a syllabus and teach mass production ceramic design by Professor Dohner while in Room B53 designing Himalayan Mountain plaster molds for a movie background for 50 cents an hour. Her mass production ceramics course worked closely with the Bay Ridge Specialty and Homer Laughlin companies; the finished pieces were shown at the Pratt Exhibition at Rockefeller Center in May 1940. Her students’ work was also shown at the Chicago Exhibit of Industrial Design at the Art Center, Chicago in 1940-1941, as well as a special exhibition that was on display at the Chicago Merchandise Market that went on view at the Museum of Modern Art in October 1954.

As a lecturer at Pratt, the head of the design department at the Museum of Modern Art visited her exhibition of student work and in 1942 attended her lecture on handicraft and mass production at the Metropolitan Museum. He asked her to design a line of dinnerware for the Castleton China Company in collaboration with the design department of the Museum of Modern Art. The line was presented at a one man show at the museum in 1946. In the early fifties she participated in several round table conferences on design at the MoMA. Several popular lines that she designed during this time include Red Wing’s town and Country, Hallcraft’s Tomorrow’s Classic, and Federal Glass’s Prestige Glasses.

In 1958, Zeisel moved her studio to Rockland County, and worked there until 1970, when she moved to Chicago to be with her husband Hans Zeisel, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Chicago. During the 1970s she researched and wrote a manuscript entitled Sixty Days that Shook New York. It concerns a trial that took place in New York City in 1741 in which many slaves were falsely accused of taking part in a non-existent slave uprising. This topic was chosen for its reminsicence of the Russian show trials during the 1930s purges.

In 1991, after the death of her husband, Zeisel moved back to New York where she continued to design dinnerware, giftware, stemware, flatware, and furniture in a variety of materials. Her designs were produced by Nambe, Klein-Reid, and the Metropolitan Museum. Her writing projects include a manuscript on the magic language of design, her memoirs, an essay on slaves in New York, and an anthology entitled Remembered Children, a collection of childhood memories from throughout the ages (from St. Augustine to Eleanor Roosevelt).

In 2005, Zeisel won the Lifetime Achievement award from the Cooper-Hewett National Design Museum.

Zeisel died on December 30, 2011.

Extent

7.33 Linear Feet (4 boxes, 1 oversize box, 8 artifact boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

The Eva Zeisel Papers were donated to Pratt Institute in several accessions in 2016 and 2018 by Zeisel's daughter, Jean Richards. This collection documents Eva Zeisel's experience as a professor of Industrial Design in the School of Art and Design from 1934-1959, as well as her career as a ceramic artist and designer before and after this period. Her role as a mentor and major influence on her students is evident in her correspondence with former students and her collection of student work. Materials include syllabi, lecture materials, notes, correspondence, photographs, articles both by and about Zeisel, and ceramic works made by students in Zeisel’s classes.

Arrangement

The records are arranged in four series, two of which have been further arranged in subseries: Series 1: Personal, 1939-2011; Series 2: Teaching Materials, 1939-1954; Series 3: Articles, 1940-1999; Subseries 3.1: By Eva Zeisel, 1940-1946, undated; Subseries 3.2: About Eva’s Teaching, 1940-1999, undated; Subseries 3.3: Miscellaneous, 1974-1997; Series 4: Student Work, 1939-1954; Subseries 4.1: Photographs of Student Work, 1939-1954; Subseries 4.2: Ceramic Works, 1939-1954; Subseries 4.3: Publications about Student Work, circa 1940, undated.

Materials are arranged chronologically, with undated materials following the latest known date.

Physical Location

This collection is located in the Pratt Institute Archives, Pratt Institute Libraries. To use this collection, please contact the Pratt Institute Archives as 718-687-5381 or archives-library@pratt.edu

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Eva Zeisel's daughter, February 25, 2016.

Related Materials

Records of the School of Art and Design (PI-010)

Processing History

This collection was processed and the finding aid was written by Ian Post in March 2016.

Two accessions were processed and added to the collection and the finding aid was revised by Elizabeth Kobert, Archives Graduate Assisant, in September 2019.
Title
Guide to the Eva Zeisel Papers
Author
Ian Post; Elizabeth Kobert, Archives Graduate Assistant
Date
March 2016; September 2019
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Revision Statements

  • 2019-09-23: 2018 accessions incorporated into collection

Repository Details

Part of the Pratt Institute Archives Repository

Contact:
200 Willoughby Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11205 United States
718-687-5381