INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

What can one say about the immensely talented Eva Zeisel that hasn't already been said? As one of the most celebrated industrial designers of the 20th century, and indeed a trailblazer, she developed the first industry course on ceramics for the Pratt Institute in New York and headlined the first one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art. Zeisel was a fascinating person; surviving Nazi-occupied Austria and imprisonment in the Soviet Union, to emerge as a person with a positive outlook and 'joie de vivre' about life, family, and work. These experiences no doubt shaped her life and perhaps account for the sense of urgency with which she approached her work, as if tomorrow was not a given but rather a gift.

When she emigrated to New York in October 1938 from her native Hungary, Zeisel wasted no time getting started. The day after she landed on U.S. soil she was up and running as an artist. She visited the offices of China + Glass magazine and was instantly commissioned to design ten ceramic miniatures for $100. Shortly thereafter she secured a teaching position at the Pratt Institute, thus launching a 73-year career that would establish her as the grand dame of ceramic arts - an artist whose work was and still is in great demand and someone who is arguably in the pantheon of industrial designers.

Zeisel's climb to the top of her field is legendary, but what's more remarkable is her ability to remain relevant for all these years. Her work is in the permanent collections of countless museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, which in 2005 awarded her the distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. Her importance as an artist is also evidenced by how highly she was thought of by the tastemakers of the day and people of influence. Writing in the Huffington Post about Zeisel's death in 2011 at the age of 105, Howard Kissel recounted a story of the dinner party held at fashion designer Tom Ford's home in 1999. At that party, Ford was shocked to learn that one of his guests had never heard of Zeisel, prompting him to declare, "No-one who does not know the work of Eva Zeisel deserves a place at my table." Suffice to say that Zeisel's work endures today.

Someone who understands that well is Josie A. Anthony, President of Leucos USA, who jumped at the chance to commission Zeisel to design a lighting collection for the noted Italian lighting company that would be one her last two projects. Zeisel is the second artist in America to be commissioned by Lecous, the first being David Rockwell of The Rockwell Group.

Her collection for Leucos, called 'Spring and Summer', includes Murano glass pendants, wall sconces and table lamps in two distinctive silhouettes. The pieces showcase her signature style and are inspired by organic forms and soft curves like those of the human body.

Getting the pieces to market was a labour of love involving countless trips to and from Murano, Italy (where they are made) on Anthony's part and several redesigns. Zeisel had a true partner in Anthony, someone to ensure the products were good enough to bear the Zeisel name. It wasn't easy and it was all consuming, noted Anthony. But it was well worth the effort.

Zeisel too had great enthusiasm for the project. Her deteriorating eyesight did not keep her from making the perfect curve. She felt her way through the design process, trusting her hands to achieve the sinuous shapes and curves for which she is world renowned. On more than one occasion, she sent Leucos back to the drawing board, or rather to the glass blowing studio, to start from scratch. The result of their collaboration is a beautiful collection of lighting products that have a Mid-Century style and lamping options for both fluorescent and incandescent light sources.

What's most amazing about the collection is its price point. Ziesel was a champion of putting good design in the hands of everyone and the new collection is remarkably affordable, especially given its quality. The Spring series table lamp is $465 US, the wall sconce is $345 US, and the pendant is $685 US. The Summer series table lamp is $485 US, the wall sconce is $425 US, and the pendant is $695 US.

An artist's 'closing act' is always of great interest. Like her celebrated table ware, Zeisel's lighting collection for Leucos USA is biomorphic in shape, democratic in spirit, and destined to be collectable. It's fitting that her last project would be a lighting collection, something that, like her, is forever radiant and enduring.

Sharon McHugh

Photo Credits:
Portrait of Eva Zeisel © Brigitte Lacombe