Back in the day, when I just just a wee fledgling designer—when I didn't know my Sagmeisters from my Bantjes—I was interning in Washington DC at the Smithsonian's Office of Exhibits Central. It was here that I sort of fell in love with my country. Cheezy, I know, but when you can just walk in to 90% of the museums in town, free of charge, and take in copious amounts of art and history—it's really pride-enducing to know that you can consider yourself one of the 'owners' of these institutions. ANYway, while I was there, I stumbled upon an exhibition of the work of Charles and Ray Eames at the Library of Congress. I was smitten.
These partners in life and in work created some of the most breath-taking, utilitarian and thoughtful art and design works of the mid-century and perhaps the whole 20th century. Having studied fine art initially, and later weaving, ceramics and metal work, Ray had solid roots in the abstract—but her sculpture and material skills later came in handy when she designed leg splints for the US army. And what lovely leg splints! These were ultimately the precursors of the beloved and iconic molded plywood chairs designed by the married duo.
I do declare that Charles is riding 'Bitch', no?
The beauty of this team was that they never tied themselves down to one medium. From fine art, to chairs, to textiles, exhibits, and modular architecture, these two never stopped working on design that was attainable and utilitarian. As a designer, I get kind of choked up thinking about all the work they did—sure they designed chairs that are stylish status objects, but check out some of the other stuff they worked on:
This here is a slideshow on steriods that the Eameses created for the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. 7 giant screens show vingettes from American life in attempt to give an honest view of American life for the Soviets. Sure there was an element of propaganda to this project, but the simple brilliance of multiple still images created movement, texture and variety. I would've killed to be there (please note that I'm a Russophile as well, so this would've been like my beloved worlds colliding).
Here's the progression of one of Ray's patterns for textile—often immitated, but NEVER matched. SO exquisite! (PS: my close friend has this pattern tattooed on his arm, and let me tell you, this is a pattern with range because it looks just as lovely on his flesh as it does on a couch!)
Leg splint designed by the Eameses, based on Ray's fine art sculpture (see below) AND the precursor to what would become one of the most iconic chairs of all time (see further below).What a gorgeous connection between art and utility!
That's a still from the beloved film, Powers of 10. In it, the Eameses help demonstrate how the power of ten works—expanding from this couple on a picnic blanket to outer space and then back again to the negative powers of ten, delving in to the microscopic bits of his body. This film has been used extensively for science education purposes.
Uh. This is my dream house (including that cute and ever so creative couple sitting there in the middle). The Eameses had an amazing way with mixing their modern creations with those which came before them. This is the perfect mix of old and new in my opinion. Oh, and they designed the house too. They were intent on creating affordable modular architecture (sadly their creation was never put in to production).
And finally, last, but certainly not least...
Here's what made these two famous forever. Just a sampling of some of the chairs they created. While some are prohibitively expensive, so many were created for industrial use and could be found in waiting rooms, airports and laundromats. I found my first Eames chair sitting sadly next to a dumpster at a Lake Tahoe motel. Now that's truly a high/low appeal.
If you want to learn more, check out the Eames Office website, now run by their grandson, Demetrius (I think).