Often, women in families have ‘female-only’ traditions. When friends of mine have a ‘girl’s weekend’ (or afternoon, if you’re in my family) with their mom, sisters, aunts, grandmas, and female cousins, they might get a mani/pedis, tour a winery, have a movie marathon, go museum-hopping, or rent a beach house altogether for a weekend. One of my friends married into a family that goes to ‘fat camp’ for a few days in the Spring chock full of ‘bikini bootcamp’ exercise sessions and salads galore at their family lake house. My female in-laws go for hikes or take longgggg (30+ miles) bike rides.
My family? We shop for dishes. By age seven, I was more familiar with the Mikasa, Lenox, and Dansk outlets than I was at the McDonald’s Playland a mile from my home. We frequented Replacements, Ltd. — a 4-hour trip — more often than we did Virginia Beach, a 1-hour trip. As a kid, I could name more hues of the Fiestaware line than I could characters on Rugrats (alas, we had no cable). When we were younger, we’d make up different games to play within these china shops — dangerous, I know. We’d host mini-competitions to find the most expensive piece or the ugliest one, or play pranks on unsuspecting shoppers (I won’t go into detail here, but they involved walkie talkies and were pretty funny).
The older I got, the deeper my appreciation for dish-ware grew. I inherited a full set of fine china from my great aunt when I was ten, and bought my first full set of dishes when I was still in college — with my own money, I might add. While other classmates ate from plastic neon plates purchased from the Dollar Tree, my apartment-mates and I were dining in stye from my brand new Calvin Klein Khaki Collection in Cargo Plum. A few years ago, I voluntarily signed up for the Replacements, Ltd. monthly Newsletter — the ultimate token of dishes fan-dome. My sisters have developed similar affinities for all things dishes, with specific articles from the ceramics family gracing their Christmas wish-lists as of late.
Dishware is the best kind of art, embracing both functionality and beauty. The women in my family have slight differences in taste, but we all have an acute appreciation — dare I say it? love — for Eva Zeisel’s work. Eva Zeisel, who just so happens to be so hot right now, is to ceramic design as Maida Heatter is to chocolate desserts, or Shiphrah and Puah are to the Hebrew Scriptures. All of these women were prolific pioneers in their craft, offering groundbreaking contributions to their respective fields and professions, and taking risks along the way that yielded both fruit and failure (but mostly fruit); even so, they are frequently overlooked by the greater American public. You won’t find Zeisel, Heatter, or Shiphrah and Puah as are questions to answers given on Jeopardy, and if they are, they wouldn’t find many people frantically shouting their names to their TVs. Sure, design fanatics, baking junkies, and Jewish studies majors might be familiar with them, but simply put, they’re not household names.
But let’s talk just a little more about EZ. Hungarian by birth, she passed away just a few weeks ago (12/30/11) at the rooted age of 105. Her life was anything but boring. She studied art at a young age in major European cities, including Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Berlin. The daughter of activists, EZ was in Moscow in the 1930s when she was accused — falsely — of devising a plot to assassinate Stalin. She was imprisoned for nearly a year and a half as a result, spending much of her imprisonment in solitary confinement. That time was formative for her career and approach towards her work: “You feel the difference first in the way you see colors,” she said of her incarceration. She was the first woman to have a solo show at the MOMA (in 1946).
After moving to the US in 1939, EZ’s career took off thanks in part to connections made through her teaching gig at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Her work is modernism at its best — pure, clean, simple, dashed with a healthy dose of sensuous curves that evoke a warm, familial feel. Oh yeah, it’s affordable too. Whoever thought that my mom would own — and use on a daily basis — work from a world-renowned artist who holds a permanent place in the MOMA?
Guess what’s going to be on my Birthday wishlist this year?