Three Female Designers Who Changed Cocktail Culture

Each of the barware designers that we carry brought something glorious to the world of cocktails.  Bold, new designs using unique materials; ethereal-sculpted crystal; stylishly colored glassware; the innovations are endless.  But today, we want to celebrate 3 of our favorite female designers: Dorothy Thorpe, Eva Zeisel, and Fran Taylor. From Mad Men-esque designs, to museum-quality collections, these are the women who took the cocktail industry by storm and paved the way for future designers.

Dorothy Thorpe

Dorothy Thorpe Mid Century Vintage Sterling Silver Band Allegro Decanter & Glasses Set   Dorothy Thorpe Etched Floral Mid Century Vintage Bent Glass Tray  Dorothy Thorpe Allegro Sterling Silver Band Cocktail Pitcher & Roly Poly Glasses

Thorpe is best known for her glassware with etched delicate floral and leaf motifs, and her Allegro pattern of classic silver-band rims.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1901, Thorpe designed glassware throughout the 1930s to 1970s.  While not a manufacturer, she purchased glassware “blanks” from different European and U.S. manufacturers, and decorated them with her personal designs.  Her early designs were inspired by her trips to Hawaii, and feature delicate floral and leaf patterns.  Her later collections included the Allegro Sterling Silver Rimmed glassware made famous by its inclusion on the TV show Mad Men.  The Allegro design graced pitchers, rocks glasses, roly poly glasses, decanters, and bowls.

Many, although not all, of Thorpe’s pieces are signed with her traditional hallmark: a large, sandblasted ‘T’ in the middle of a smaller ‘D’ and ‘C’.  Like her original designs, the hallmark was sandblasted onto designated pieces.  In order to sandblast the signature and the intricate, floral designs, Thorpe and her assistants had to laboriously layer tape over the blank glassware to protect the areas that needed to remain untouched.  The dedication to her craft resulted in magnificent works that caught the eye of several stars and celebrities such as Clark Gable, Princess Grace of Monaco, and Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran.

Thorpe’s artistry, imagination, and elegant simplicity ensured that her work lived on past her death in 1989.  The Art Institute Chicago, the West Virginia Museum of American Glass, and the Auckland Museum are among those with Dorothy Thorpe pieces in their collections.

Eva Zeisel

Eva Zeisel Mid Century Vintage Cocktail Pitcher & Glasses Set | The Hour Shop     Eva Zeisel Blue Swirl Mid Century Vintage Cocktail Glasses | The Hour Shop

 Eva Zeisel's career spanned almost nine decades, and started with a desire to make beautiful things and a wish to see the world.  Born in Budapest in 1906, Zeisel enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1923, but left after only three semesters to apprentice with potter Jakob Karapancsik.  She graduated in six months and began creating her own pottery, becoming the first woman admitted to her local pottery guild. Curious to experience art around the world, she moved to Germany and then to the Soviet Union.  She rose to the height of Art Director of the China and Glass Industry of the Russian Republic before being abruptly arrested in 1936 and falsely accused of conspiring to assassinate Stalin. Zeisel was imprisoned for sixteen months.  Upon her release, the artist traveled to England where she married Hans Zeisel, and later the two sailed to New York.

 Once in New York, Ziesel found work as a designer for several companies.  Her focus on highlighting the beauty naturally found in the world and incorporating the simple, elegant curves and lines of Art Deco and mid-century trends, won her many admirers.  Ultimately, Zeisel wanted to design fresh, useful objects that would bring beauty to daily life, and she did that for many decades.

Zeisel taught at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she was the first person to teach ceramics as industrial design for mass production, rather than handicraft.  She accepted a request to design dinnerware for Sears, Roebuck and Company, and later for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The MoMA honored her with an exhibition in 1946.  

In the 1950s, Ziesel designed for several international companies, including Rosenthal Porcelain in West Germany, Mancioli Pottery in Italy, and Noritake in Japan.  She continued producing original designs in multiple mediums, including glassware and ceramic pieces for Crate & Barrel, until her death in 2011, never stopping her “playful search for beauty.”  She was 105.

Some of Zeisel's works are in the permanent collections of the Brohan Museum in Berlin; The British Museum; The Brooklyn Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The MoMA; and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Fran Taylor

Gay Fad Don't Give Up The Ship Mid Century Vintage Cocktail Shaker & Glasses Set      Gay Fad Mid Century Vintage Hand Painted Rooster Frosted Collins Glasses | The HourGay Fad Mid Century Vintage Frosted Glass Fireman Cocktail Shaker & Glasses Set   

Fran Taylor was an artist, designer, and entrepreneur who founded Gay Fad Studios, Inc. in the mid-twentieth century and built it into a million dollar company.

Taylor was born in 1915 in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, and later moved to Michigan with her family where she attended art school. At first, Taylor pursued fashion and dressmaking, but she then began to explore painting and designing, and it wasn’t long before her pieces were in great demand. Taylor originally painted tin wastebaskets and other tin items, but moved to glassware when metalware became difficult to find during World War II.

Like Dorothy Thorpe, Taylor obtained “blanks” from different glassware manufacturers, which she then decorated with her hand-painted designs.  Sometimes wild and colorful, other times beautifully elegant, Taylor’s designs were always unique and transformed regular glassware into works of art.

From 1938 to 1945, Taylor worked from home.  As her business expanded, she needed more space.  She opened Gay Fad Studios in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1945.  It was at that time that Taylor and her newly-hired artists started using special ceramic paints that made it possible to use a firing process to fuse the painted design on the glass, ensuring it would last a lifetime.

One of the first collections to come from this new process was a line of fruit-inspired designs.  Taylor followed these with her international ballet designs, and then her poppy designs.  She continued expanding her business with an exclusive line of glassware designed in 1947 through a partnership with Hazel Atlas.

In 1950, Gay Fad introduced its Gay Nineties design, which included caricatures of people in period costume.  It was so successful it fueled the introduction of three sub-lines: Here’s To, Portraits, and Beach Scenes.  In 1954, the company produced a full line of state souvenir glasses, which went through several design variations throughout the following years.  Then, from 1955-1959, Gay Fad introduced several new designs with gold-enhancements, and geometric patterns. While there were some non-gold designs, such as the 1957 rooster design, most pieces produced during this period feature golden embellishments.

For eighteen years, Gay Fad was one of the most well-known and prolific decorating companies in the country.  The company eventually closed in 1962, but Fran Taylor’s designs continue to live on.

We hope you have enjoyed learning a little about these inspiring artistic women and their craft, and continue to celebrate their creativity with cocktails made in their works of art at your own home bar!