Eva Zeisel Talks to O's Lisa Kogan
"Mary H. Krell is my wooden spoon doll," she informs me. "Every first-grader makes one, only the boys call them pocket people instead of spoon dolls because boys feel funny about saying they have a doll." Julia explains this in a way that suggests she loves me...despite the fact that I might be the stupidest human being on the face of the planet.
"Yep, boys are funny all right," I mumble.
"Mommy," Julia shouts directly into my left eardrum, "I need to bring a shoebox to school today, so I can build a house for Mary H. Krell!" My understanding is that all kids occasionally forget to mention their shoebox requirements in a timely fashion. My hope is that at least a few other 6-year-olds feel compelled to give their dolls a middle initial and last name. My prayer is that there is something in my ridiculously small closet that'll make a decent split-level ranch for Mary H. Krell. What I'm looking for is a creative solution, some sweet inspiration, and a modicum of wisdom. But at this particular moment, what I've got is bubkes.
I know that there are some women out there who are making their way through life with wit and courage, even on days when life refuses to play fair and provide them with a shoebox. And I know there are people in this world who get up every morning and, through magic and talent and sheer force of will, manage to turn nothing into something. I once witnessed my friend Karen go into her pantry, take out a jar of grape jelly, a pine-scented Air Wick solid, a can of cream of celery soup, a box of lasagna noodles, and whip up a feast. And yes, I'm exaggerating to make a point—there was no soup involved—but you get the idea. These women are improvising their way through complicated lives, raising children up, holding jobs down, sculpting a palace from an empty Adidas box. How do they do it? How do they acknowledge their limitations, and then find the bravado and perseverance and imagination to rise above them? Everyone I know is looking for the secret code that will unlock her creativity, but I can think of only one woman who has not only found it but somehow manages to tap into it daily.
I was familiar with Eva Zeisel's work long before I was familiar with her name: the teakettle she designed for Chantal, the line of dinnerware she created for Royal Stafford, the brass candlesticks, the blown-glass goblets, the ceramic vases, the porcelain pitchers. Voluptuous yet restrained, playful yet pragmatic, Eva's stuff is sexy. You want to caress it, sip from it, watch it catch the light.
Zeisel recalls her childhood in Budapest and what first sparked her interest in creating art