Eva Zeisel:

The Shape of Life

September 13–December 9, 2008

Design by Eva Zeisel for Riverside China Company, Riverside, Calif. Glazed earthenware. Erie Art Museum, Erie, Pa. A "perfect union of form and function" awaits visitors as the Tyler Museum of Art gets set to unveil its major fall exhibition, Eva Zeisel: The Shape of Life.

Design by Eva Zeisel (Hungarian, b. 1906) for Western Stoneware. Bird salt and pepper shakers (black and white), c. 1950s. Erie Art Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania.

The exhibition, showcasing close to 100 pieces designed by the Hungarian-born artist who revolutionized ceramic design throughout the world and brought an original brand of modernism into American homes beginning in the 1940s, opens to the public on Saturday, September 13 and continues through December 9 in the TMA's North Gallery.

The Shape of Life, organized by Erie Art Museum in Erie, Pennsylvania, spans more than 70 years in the broad and accomplished career of Zeisel, the legendary Eastern European artisan who continues to produce household and industrial designs as she approaches her 102nd birthday.

"Eva is perhaps best known in the design world for bringing warmth and feeling to the cold formalism of Bauhaus, and what is most remarkable about her work in general is the emotional connection," TMA Curator Kentaro Tomio said. "Her designs, no matter how modernistic or intricate, display a genuine intimacy and distinct personality. Anyone can own and use the pieces based on her designs, yet they beautifully illustrate how artistically designed, mass-produced objects can be comparable to fine art."

The exhibition guides the viewer through Zeisel's vast array of design ideas and changes of style since the late 1920s, as well as narrating her long and eventful life – which included escaping a death sentence in the Soviet Union after being falsely accused in a plot to assassinate Josef Stalin. (That experience later was recounted in the novel "Darkness at Noon" by her friend Arthur Koestler.) The Shape of Life includes Eva Zeisel's well known ceramic work for Hallcraft, Sears and Red Wing Pottery, as well as glass, metal and furniture design, and examples of her famed Town and Country series of modern stoneware. The exhibition also showcases her work for companies such as KleinReid, The Orange Chicken, and Crate and Barrel, the latter of which in 2005 introduced "Classic Century," a reissue of her 1952 china collections.

Opening Lecture
"Due to inclement weather from Hurricane Ike, the Museum has been forced to postpone the preview and exhibition’s opening lecture by James Pearson, assistant curator of Erie Art Museum. The program, originally scheduled for Friday, September 12 in Tyler Junior College’s Jean Browne Theatre, will be rescheduled as soon as an appropriate date becomes available, TMA Head of Education Katie Powell said.”

"Zeisel's mid-20th century ceramic designs were considered avant-garde at the time but are now recognized as classic," Pearson said. "Her timelessly elegant dinnerware from that era looks at home in today's kitchen, especially with the current revival of modernist design. It's amazing how many of her designs – and wares inspired by her designs – are in use today all over the world."

Born to a wealthy Hungarian family in 1906, Zeisel's artistic influence has spanned the globe for close to eight decades. She served as artistic director of the China and Glass Industry in the Soviet Union until her untimely arrest for the Stalin plot, and is credited with teaching the first course in the U.S. on ceramic design for mass production when she accepted a post at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute shortly after emigrating to this country to flee Nazi persecution in 1938. Her work was the focus of the first one-woman show at New York's Museum of Modern Art, after the venue commissioned her Castleton Service porcelain dinnerware in 1947.

In addition to having her work exhibited in major museums throughout the world, Zeisel's designs appear in permanent collections including the MoMA, Metropolitan Museum, British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Brohan Museum in Berlin, continuing to attract widespread acclaim for their uniquely utilitarian beauty. As she enters her second century, she remains "a maker of useful things."

"We feel differently, more intimately, about dishes than we do about shoes or chairs or forks," Zeisel said upon the unveiling of the exhibition at the Erie Art Museum. "If we unexpectedly come upon a chair like we used when we were children, we say, 'We had a chair like that at home.' But if we come upon dishes like we used on the dinner table with our parents, we will surely exclaim, 'Look! Our dishes!'"

Special Events
Admission for Eva Zeisel: The Shape of Life is free for TMA members and children 12 and under, $5 for adults, and $3 for seniors and students. Special items featuring Zeisel's designs will be available for purchase in the Museum Gift Shop during the exhibition.

"The timing of the TMA hosting this exhibition couldn't be more perfect," TMA Director Kimberley Bush Tomio said. "With the Texas Rose Festival attracting thousands to East Texas this October, we wanted to present a show that could offer a unique and engaging experience to visitors whom we might be welcoming to the Museum for the first time. With its blend of timeless beauty and sophistication with a powerful personal connection, The Shape of Life is exactly that."

In addition to the opening lecture and gallery preview, special events in conjunction with the exhibition include First Friday Art Tours, Oct. 3 and Nov. 7; Seniors Days, Sept. 22 and Dec. 1; and Family Day. Oct. 26.

The Tyler Museum of Art, accredited by the American Association of Museums, is located at 1300 S. Mahon Ave., adjacent to the Tyler Junior College campus off East Fifth Street. The Museum's growing Permanent Collection focuses on early to contemporary Texas art, as well as works in decorative arts, Asian art, and prints and photographs of American masters. The TMA also is set to receive a promised gift of more than 300 works from the Laura and Dan Boeckman Collection of Mexican and Latin American Folk Art. For more information, call 903-595-1001.