Eva Eisler (born Eva Tlustá)
Eva Eisler was born and raised in Prague. Her father, Jiří, was a mechanical engineer while her mother, Vlasta, was an artist. Growing up, Eva attended a school specializing in mathematics and physics in her native Prague district of Karlín and then began studying to become an architect. In 1968, her father took a temporary academic job at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Eva says that she learned English over two summers spent living with her father’s colleagues in England. In 1970, Eva’s father decided to emigrate. Eva says that the remainder of her family in Czechoslovakia was “punished” for this decision; as a consequence, she was expelled from her architectural studies.
Eva subsequently began working at the architectural firm SIAL, where she met her husband John. The pair had two children and left as a family for the United States in 1983 when John was hired by renowned architect Richard Maier. Eva, who had been making jewelry since she was young, began to do so much more actively once she moved to New York as, she said, she was unable to secure a job in architecture there. She took several classes at Parsons The New School for Design and ultimately ended up teaching there and at NYU. Eva refers to the 25 years she spent in New York as “the best time of [her] life.” She moved back to Prague in 2008 after her husband set up his own architecture firm in the Czech capital. Today, Eva heads the jewelry department at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. She says that it has become a “tradition” that she designs one exhibit for either Prague Castle or the National Gallery each year. Her own work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Art and Design in New York City.
Eva says she had both a technical and an artistic education growing up
“On my father’s side, yes. And I think that gave me a good foundation for the work that I do. Mathematics, even though it is an exact science, it has also an abstract side to it, and gives you a kind of rational approach to things. And from my mother I received this knowledge of art and architecture and she was very passionate about it. So, the way how she taught us – I remember that she dragged me through all the museums and galleries and from when we could travel from 1967 throughout the whole of Europe. And I hated it because she was quite forceful in her ideas of what is good and what is bad. And when I got older I had to take everything out, because I needed to have my own opinion. And surprisingly I came to the same conclusion as I was taught, so…”
In the late 1960s, Eva spent two summers in the United Kingdom learning English
“The second family with five children – the youngest boy was about five and he was told that these people from Eastern Europe (I came there with my brother) are coming and that we are coming from a very primitive country. So he took my hand and he put it inside the refrigerator and he was looking at me expecting some ‘Wow!’ So, I understood it and so I said ‘Wow! Brrr!’ And then he switched on the television and looked at me and was looking at me again and I said… So I made him happy.”
Eva reflects upon her 25 years in New York City
“You see it the way that you feel at that moment. When somebody feels miserable and afraid because he is not in the best situation financially, and [with] security for children, so you are looking at that big place with a little bit of fear. So, I remember there were times when, for example, my child was sick or the kids were attacked by some people during those horrible times in the ‘80s, when you hate that place, when you hate that noise and you hate all those people and hate all that that is extra. You know, you want that place just to be there for what you are there for. And people are in New York because they want to enjoy all the arts, music, theatre, architecture, great people, great food. And when something happens, then you cannot get to this – you have to crawl over the big barrier that you have to deal with.
“But luckily I had only – we had only a few situations like that. My 25 years in New York will be like the best time of my life. Because it’s not an easy city, it’s quite difficult, and you are there only if you want to climb to the top of that hill. It doesn’t make any sense to be there if you want to stay somewhere at the bottom.”
Eva discusses the way her jewelry-making process has changed over the years
“Of course, yes, it did change. Through the process of making we are learning something about ourselves. Through meeting other people and looking at their work we are being influenced. But architecture always stayed the medium that I am most interested in. And eventually, when I could, I started making my work larger. I always wanted to make furniture and large-scale sculptures and drawings. But it is not like each media goes a different direction; it’s all interconnected and I am working one period of time on this and then go back to jewelry and then go back to sculpture and go back to furniture. And it somehow is all building upon itself.”
Category: New York City, Oral History