Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Happy Birthday to Eva Zeisel!

There are lots of folks out in the world who have never heard of Eva Zeisel -- in fact, I hadn't, until only a few years ago. In the art world, the name is often everything. Today, Chihuly and Picasso and other successes have become practically household names, for their revolutionizing their media. But in the world of ceramics, the hand is all. Eva Zeisel has one heck of a hand.

There are plenty of sources for her biography, but too often they skip over the brief time, in the early 1950s, she spent here in Monmouth, IL (except when they're trying to buy or sell pieces she designed/crafted while here, at Western Stoneware).

There's a fellow who comes the the local auctions, now and again (he used to come every week, but his health is fragile... he's probably only about 10 years younger than Zeisel, after all), who worked pretty much all his adult life at the Monmouth Pottery, primarily making cups and mugs. One day, when the auction house had about a dozen locally-made Zeisel pieces up for sale, the gentleman commented that he had worked with her, and had never been impressed by her and never much liked her stuff -- it just didn't look strong enough, or words to that effect.

I have to admit, I look at them and think of fluids, of motion, of laughter and whimsy, and the gent at the auction didn't strike me as one who had a sense of humor about dishes. He likes the chunky, clunky, almost purely utilitarian stuff with the horrid green glazes, and the drip-glaze pieces.

If it weren't for Eva Zeisel's works, I suspect tableware would still be serious, stiff, and depressingly formal -- or worse, permanently 1970s-avocado-green-ugly. Certainly stoneware -- and Western Stoneware -- took on new light when she first cast clay.

I raise a glass in honor of her birth, one century and one year ago, today.

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