The Life and Art of Eva Zeisel.
Canobie Films. Directed by Jyll Johnstone.
Eva Zeisel is a name many may not have heard, an artist and designer
many may not be aware of. Despite this, many may have seen her designs,
may have been touched by her work. Many will certainly be touched
by this lovingly and thoughfully directed documentary on the Hungarian-German-American
Zeisel's extroadinary story is shown through her own eyes and those
of her contemporaries - interviews with the artist, family, friends,
collegues, gallerists and curators are put into context with the
help of narchival footage from the turbulant era that Zeisel was
a part of.
Zeisel was born in Budapest in 1906. Her mother, we are told, was
a pioneer feminist activist. Zeisel studied art, then decided that
if she actually wanted to sustain herself, learning a practical
craft would be more sensible, so she learnt the trade at a porcelain
factory. The industrial approach was one that became a golden thread
through Zeisel's life works, but her personality gave them a distinct
human touch. "If it gives pleasure to the eye, it is beauty"
In 1930, she went to Berlin, somehow manging to start a personal
trend, whereby she would always be at the forefront of political
developments, although by no means to her advantage. There she worked
at another porcelain factory, with a designer seconded to her. In
1932 she went to the Soviet Union, drawn there not by political
developments, but by the lure of an exotic culture. There she soon
found favor, gaining a position as artistic director of an important
glass and ceramics factory. However favor did not last and in 1936
Zeisel was arrested by the KGB for allegedly planning to assassinate
Stalin. she was imprisoned in St. petersburg for 16 months, then
inexplicably deported to Austria. How she survived that episode
is still a mystery to her today. In Austria she met up with an earlier
admirer Hans, and soon got married.
Events, however, were not to leave Zeisel in peace. In 1938 Hitler
Germany annexed Austria and Zeisel, probably again fearing for her
life, emigrated to the USA, which was to become her new home. Penniless,
Zeisel soon got an order for 10 miniature pieces, earning her $100.
"We were never poor. People like us were never poor",
she says a bit self-mockingly. "We just had no money".
Soon Zeisel was at the forefront of design, making a set described
as 'very Greenwich Village', i.e. modern. At the time, her work
was very 'hard edge', but over the years her forms became softer.
She was to go on to make some of the most famous China sets to come
out of the USA - 'Hallcraft' and 'Tomorrow's Classic', one of America's
best ever selling sets. It was very refined, even aristocratic,
but inexpensive. Zeisels' work since that period has been characterized
by curves and wavy lines.
While all this was going on, Zeisel also managed to raise five
children. Her husband Hans was a law professor in Chicago, where
she spent more and more time from the mid 1970s. While juggling
family life with pottery, this amazing women also taught at the
Pratt & Rhode island School of Design. She now again lives in
NYC and, driven by a desire for 'playfullness', still designs at
the age of 98. "The others" she says "were always
the 'grown ups'. I somehow got old without ever growing up".
Produced by Canobie Films, Throwing Curves is the first of a documentary
film series that explores the lives of 85-plus women still actively
engaged in their creative lives.