Since our college days of collecting dinnerware in thrift shops and flea markets, we’ve been big fans of design legend Eva Zeisel. Ms. Zeisel designed for most of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, and is noted for bring humanity and sensuality to modernism. In 1999 we had the opportunity to meet her.
In her New York apartment we nervously gave her one of our vases as a gift. “Oh this is very serious,” she responded as she turned the vase over in her hands. After working in industry for years, she appreciated that we were merging industrial techniques and artisanal quality. We proposed a collaboration.
The following evening (a Friday at about 5:00) James phoned Eva to set up a time to meet and discuss what we should make. Her response, “Why don’t you come over now?” Well? Why not? We made it to her Upper West Side apartment about 7:00 and began exploring the possibilities.
Eva kept us up late. At 12:30 a.m. we sat rapt as she paged through a draft of her design book explaining her philosophies on the “magic language of design.” (That book eventually became “Eva Zeisel on Design.”) At 1:45 she was still going strong, but we sleepily excused ourselves. As we readied to leave, she suggested we come with her upstate the next morning to continue working at her country house.
When we arrived upstate the next day, she ordered us out of the car to take a walk through a nearby apple orchard insisting, “You live in New York City and need to see trees and nature.” We spent the rest of the day on her patio drawing forms and cutting paper silhouettes.
Over successive meetings and healthy doses of champagne and chocolate, we created the original six vessels in the “Eva” collection. It premiered in August of that year and was an instant hit. In the following years we added serving pieces, mouth-blown crystal and limited-edition prints to accompany the vases. The collection has become a design classic and its pieces are in the collections of the White House, the Museum of Art and Design, New York and several other museums.
We treasure our dear friendship with Eva. We worked with her for the last twelve years of her life and through her learned more about design than we could learn in any school. She taught us to design with honesty and love and without limitations.