Airbrushed ceramics from the later-1920s to the mid-1930s from the collection of Rolf Achilles
A Word on Eva Zeisel-Stricker as Designer for Schramberg and Carstens-Hirschau
(An abridged version was published in Chicago Art Deco Magazine,
Eva Zeisel (November 13, 1906-December 30, 2011) is now a household name. She has become an iconic
American designer selling through Crate & Barrel and other fine design shops, has a facebook page and a wide following.
It was not always so.
Born Eva Stricker into a Jewish family
in Budapest, she studied painting at the Royal Academy of Art there from 1923 -24 and sold some of her pottery creations at
open air markets. She was impatient and by 1927 found employment at the Hansa Kunstkeramik in Hamburg. Within the year she
was employed at the Schramberger Majolikafabrik G.m.b.H. in the Black Forest, about as far away from Hamburg as you could
get in Germany. Then in 1930, she moved to Berlin, where her studio was the former studio of Emil Nolde, the great German
Expressionist. Here she worked as an independent designer first very briefly for Carsten Lübeck,
then about 18 months for Chr. Carsten-Hirschau.
Belated, her innovative work at Schramberg and Hirschau has attracted attention in the US.
Eva Stricker was 22 when she applied
for the job as designer advertised in the trade journal, die Schaulade, by the ceramics firm of Schramberger Majolikafabrik
G.m.b.H., Schramberg in the Black Forest. Owned by Leopold and Moritz Mayer since 1912, the brothers hired Ms. Stricker to
design products for the firm that employed some 300 people working seven kilns.
Though we know that Stricker-Zeisel produced over 200 designs in her tenure at Schramberg, no conclusive inventory
survives for of firms designs making those by Eva Stricker-Zeisel, difficult to identify definitively. Based on known objects
and published catalogs and advertisements, several collectors have reconstructed as best they can the firms inventory for
the years Stricker-Zeisel designed there and after. The evidence, while copious is still somewhat inconclusive. Adding complications
is the fact that besides designing the form, she also designed patterns. These patterns, always without attribution, became
common usage at Schramberg, appearing on forms Zeisel could not have designed. And, we don’t know how long designs stayed
in production after she left Schramberg.
It is known, documented
in photographs, in ads and in later years by Zeisel herself, that Form 3155, 3156, 3157, 3158, 3185, 3189, 3190, 3192, 3194,
3195/1, 3195/2, 3196, 3206, 3207, 3200, 3209, 3210, 3211, 3212, 3213, 3214, 3215, 3220, 3221, 3222, 3223, 3224, 3225, 3226,
3227, 3228, 3229, 3230, 3231, 3232, 3287, 3291, 3294, 3300, 3301, 3302, 3303, 3304, 3305, 3306, 3307, 3308, 3309, 3310, 3312,
3313, 3314, 3316, 3317, 3366, 3389, 3442, 3433, and possibly others are her designs. As for patterns, only a few can be attributed
to her with certainty such as Dekor 3669 found on a liquor set comprising a platter and six cups, dated 1931/1932 and are
attributed to her based on an ad in the leading ceramics journal, die Schaulade, 1931.
A teapot, Form 3211, a creamer, Form 3212, a cup, Form 3214, with a beak-like handle are particularly
prized with a hand painted pattern called Gobelin 13. This pattern may have been introduced by Stricker-Zeisel, but is not
documented as such. A flat toped, disc-lidded tea set, Form 3442, 3433, 3389, is also know to be hers and has been reissued
by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Other Schramberg designs by Eva Zeisel have been reissued by the MoMa,
the Brooklyn Museum and others.
studio in Berlin, Eva Stricker-Zeisel was courted to design for Chr. Carstens. At the time, Carstens was a conglomerate of
several factories together employing over 1000 people and, after Villeroy & Boch, the largest ceramics producer in Germany.
Within the Carstens system, Ms. Stricker, who lived in Berlin, designed exclusively for the Chr.Carstens-Hirschau factory
in Hirschau, Bavaria, some 7 hours with 3 or 4 transfers from Berlin by train. Also, it was a time within the German ceramics
industry of modernization and Carstens was not left behind. By 1928, each facility in Carsten’s consortium
had begun to systematically update production and design by introducing airbrush technology and as well as new design features
and casting methods.
Eva Stricker-Zeisel met the challenge
successfully. Because she was employed by Carstens to design for their Hirschau facilities exclusively, but worked form her
Berlin studio in an arrangement we cannot fully reconstruct today, she may be considered the first independent women designers
for the German ceramics industry, possibly anywhere. Not that there had not been women designing ceramics, even owning ceramic
manufacturing facilities, but Ms. Stricker was on her own, independent, designing presumably many more pieces than she actually
sold and Carstens-Hirschau put into production. There are no corporate production records known to survive from her time at
Carstens-Hirschau so all attribution is based on what she herself published or ads Carstens-Hirschau placed in trade journals.
This is a small body of evidence, but an innovative one. Her most famous Carstens-Hirschau design is arguably
Eva designed several coffee and tea sets (“S,” “T,”
“R,”“C,” “Holland,” and “Ceylon,”) the table setting “Nürnberg,”
a smoking service and several table service dishes for Carstens-Hirschau. The tea services “Holland” and “Ceylon”
were presumably designed in 1931, but not issued until fall of 1932 or early 1933. The tea set “Ceylon” stayed
in production until at least 1935 and is documented in at least four patterns. The “Jubilaumsservice” tea set
has been attributed to Zeisel, Eva albeit with reservations and based only on the forms. Her 1931 tea service “T,”
the so-called “Kugelservice,” (“ball service”), was the only such service to go immediately into mass
production (it remained in production until 1935/36, was exhibited at the Spring 1932 Leipzig Trade Fair and illustrated in
an article in “Die Schaulade.” The illustration shows clearly that the “T” form is a sphere. Even
its lid fits into the roundness, with the knob of the lid projecting slightly from its depression to complete the circle.
The ear-like handles of this service were more grounded in organic forms than those on other pots.
Stricker-Zeisel’s first ovoid forms are seen in the “C” and “S”
tea service designs with their softly rounded shoulders, gently indented middle sections and broad, sometimes bowed, handles;
her lids are now pushed to the back or off center, in the Japanese style, with wide ribbon-like handles and knobless lids.
Their distinctive elongated flat handles, ribbed bodies, and abstract decoration on a matt, turquoise ground, represent a
high point in ceramics production by Hirschau.
Only a few other
forms are attributed to Eva Stricker Zeisel, such as Container Form 177, platter form 188, and milk pitcher Form 156.
With the exception of the Kugelservice “T”, it is not known how
long the lines designed by Stricker-Zeisel stayed in production. The wide variety of patterns documented on her forms suggest
that they stayed in production for several years after her 1932 departure from Berlin for what was meant to be a vacation
in the Soviet Union. She is known to have done one last design, a butter dish, for Carstens Hirschau while in the Soviet Union.
Postscript: Carstens-Hirschau closed production in 1956, while
the Schramberg facilities closed in the late 1980s.
article could not have been written without the superb research of Volker Hornbostal, Volker Zalinsky, Pat Moore and others,
including the late Eva Zeisel herself. To all them I am grateful for their research, writings and conversations.