Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, Pat Kirkham, Pat Moore, Pirco Wolfframm, photographs by Brent C. Brolin (San Francisco: Chronicle, 2013). 


At once scholarly and intimate, this book honors the unique life and artistic achievements of Eva Zeisel. Born in Hungary in 1906, Zeisel endured two world wars and the Soviet revolution, spending 16 months in a Russian prison and escaping Nazi persecution before emigrating to the U.S. in 1938. Pat Kirkham’s biographical essay unfolds beneath a timeline of historic photographs plucked from over a century of family history. Kirkham’s personal friendship with Zeisel adds depth and feeling to the biographer’s meticulous research. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, Zeisel told Kirkham about watching the countdown to the year 2000. “‘It was my century,’” Zeisel said with tears in her eyes, having lived through the best and worst those decades of violence and invention had to offer. 

After the astonishing life comes the equally astonishing work, photographed with magical light by Brent Brolin and chronicled by Kirkham and her co-authors, Pat Moore and Pirco Wolfframm, who also became devoted friends and scholars of all things Zeisel. Whether emerging out of darkness or basking against a warm, bright glow, each piece pops with boldness of contour and subtlety of surface. (my emphasis) Zeisel was a master form-maker, but she also had a flair for decoration. A 1930 tea set is spotted with soft blue and yellow dots; a 1955 kitchenware ensemble for Hall China Company is glazed in a v-neck of pink and blue. Zeisel called herself a modernist with a little “m.” She knew enough about the so-called Machine Aesthetic to reject it for something all her own. She made her pieces in families, creating relationships of form and counterform that suggest love among people rather than things. That love, and the love that people had for her, comes through on every page.

Book Board member Ellen Lupton
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; Maryland Institute College of Art