Monday, August 18, 2008

Objects of Affection, Part 2

photo courtesy of  Eva Zeisel

Continued from yesterday's story, picking up where I left off: looking at Eva Zeisel's work in the book in the library.

I came away changed to the core. Would it be possible to have this designer come and talk to my students? How do you get in touch with a guru? I dialed Manhattan directory assistance. 

The voice on the answering machine was right - the right age, the right accent. The tone was genteel, encouraging. I offered a message to the electronic ear: would Eva Zeisel like to come to Los Angeles to talk to some design students? Two weeks later she called me back. The genteel voice with the European accent said yes, she would come.

Eva Zeisel spoke to me across the timelines of the Twentieth Century, across the boundaries of inhibition, across the limitations of the ego. Designer to designer, speaking the same language. Teacher to student. I wanted my students to have the experience I was having, to learn at the knee of the master. There were many months of preparation. Schedules to be coodinated. Everything must be perfect. A date was set; travel arrangements were made. 

A few months later, I was at a conference in New York. I tried to get in touch with Eva, who lived nearby. I finally got through, but it was late on the last day – and I was leaving the next morning. We agreed that I must come over right then and have tea. I told her I had met a friend of hers, Sara Little Turnbull, the Director of the Process of Change Laboratory at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Eva said, “Bring her along.” She ended the conversation with, “You know, I think that our meeting like this, it has God’s finger in it.”

Sara is another luminary. She had a line of people waiting to talk to her at all times during the conference. But an invitation like this is not an everyday thing. I interrupted her at dinner. I apologized to her companion and whispered in Sara’s ear, “Do you want to go to Eva Zeisel’s house for tea?” She looked up with wide eyes and said, “Now?” I said yes. She rose from the table, saying to her dinner partner, “I hope you understand, but something has come up which I must do.” She walked out of the restaurant, down the corridor and to the front portico of the conference center, and stood poised on the curb like a figure on the foredeck of a seagoing ship. She stood there like that until the car came to take us away.

There are people who stand, killing time. Sara stood, running through the camera of her mind: what she felt when she thought of Eva’s work. Her magnificent ability to question the rules of the world. The designer who refused to use the term “Good Design.” When questioned about the subject at a Museum of Modern Art symposium, she replied, “Love is a very personal matter.” The next day it was headline news in the New York Times: “Eva Zeisel Says Love Is a Personal Matter.” A designer who challenged convention. 

Eva at her one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art, 1946, a few months after MoMA's exhibition of the furniture of Charles and Ray Eames.

To be continued...

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