Eva Zeisel designs with her hands

 title=Renowned industrial designer Eva Zeisel is still at it at 101, despite macular degeneration that means she can only see bright objects, and only indistinctly. That hasn’t dimmed her sense of style: when I ask permission to take a photograph, she instructs me to move a pot of pink impatiens closer to pep up the background.

Nor has macular degeneration lessened Zeisel’s appetite for work; I have to interview her in two parts because midway she grew impatient to get back to the job at hand: a set of flatware commissioned by Bloomingdale’s department stores. Her design assistant hands her a balsa-wood model of a knife-in-progress. Eva’s big, gnarled hands move gently around it, long fingers utterly focused. “That is a little thick, no?” she asks, indicating the tip of the handle. Olivia measures it, sands off a millimeter, hands it back to the master.
“I can’t tell you how my ideas form,” says the designer. “Ideas come naturally, as my happiness is making shapes and getting them out of the air, with my hands.” Those big hands carve out curves in the air over her lap. Has the process changed since her eyesight degenerated? Zeisel shakes her head once, firmly. “I think the process was always the same.”

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