Eva Zeisel ( American, 1906 - 2011 )
Shenango Pottery ( American, 1905 )
Castleton China Division
- designed c. 1942–1943
Museum is one of the most important tablewares made in the United States during the 20th century and, like the country itself, was the product of various foreign and indigenous influences.
In 1939, German-born Louis E. Hellmann, formerly president of the Rosenthal China Corporation in New York, founded Castleton China Co. Hellmann contracted Shenango Pottery to produce porcelain dinnerware for his new company and, in 1940, introduced adaptations of conservative Rosenthal shapes and patterns. Shortly thereafter he asked the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to recommend a designer to create a modern line of porcelain dinnerware. Anxious to further modernist aesthetics and thus "improve" taste, MoMA recommended the Hungarian-born and German and Russian-trained Eva Zeisel, who had immigrated to the United States in 1938.
Reminiscent of the elegant yet functional German services made in white porcelain in the early 1930s, the aptly named Museum line was nevertheless highly original. Zeisel's design was not as severely geometric as its central European counterparts or as starkly white, featuring instead voluptuous curves and a warm, off-white color. Although Museum was designed around 1942-1943, World War II delayed its introduction until 1946, when it was shown in New York at MoMA; B. Altman's; John Wanamaker's; Black, Starr & Gorham; and Georg Jensen. At the time MoMA officials stated, "This modern dinnerware may well provide a landmark in the American ceramic industry. Heretofore, modern shapes in dinnerware services have been interpreted only in earthenware." Highly promoted by both Hellmann and MoMA, which included the design in the exhibition Industry and Handwork Create New Housewares in the United States that toured Europe in 1951, Museum became well-known in America and abroad, influencing modern designs in porcelain on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 1940s and 1950s. Although MoMA championed the line in its monochrome state, it did not sell well unornamented. Decal decorations, usually by other designers, were soon added to Zeisel's shapes to entice consumers.
Charles L. Venable, China and Glass in America 1880-1980 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art: New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000), 465.