This was the fourth of our lecture series with professor Chris Howell. Within this lecture Howell embarked upon the work of late American designers Charles Eames (1907-1978) and Bernice Ray Eames (1922-1988) better or more famously known as Charles and Ray Eames.
The wacky couple first came to light after the war, becoming very well known and respected for their ground-breaking contributions in the fields of furniture design, architecture, industrial design, photographic arts and manufacturing; incredible polymaths of their time. This phrase comes from the late ‘Renaissance Man’ Leonardo Da Vinci, meaning a man (or woman) of their time whom has acquired profound knowledge of proficiency in more than one field. Da Vinci was renowned for his title as the Renaissance man, incredibly taking up work and perfecting in the fields of an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, mathematician and scientist. Charles and Ray Eames were certainly renaissance men of their time, their extensive creative backgrounds and artistic flares combined together gave them huge credibility, and contributed hugely to the modernist movement.
The late married couple were, and still are amongst the most important American designers of the 20th century, they set the agenda for the next phase in American design. The pair first met during their studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan, and later married in 1941. The very early success of the pair first arose during World War II, when Charles won two prizes for his complex curve designs in plywood. Following this the United States navy commissioned the pair to produce moulded plywood splints, stretchers and experimental glider shells, an incredible opportunity for the two. It wasn’t long after until they began to produce their own plywood furniture, incorporating the art of curving the wood into complex but beautiful and useful designs. The plywood chair was named ‘Chair of the century’ by Ester McCoy, an influential critic, instrumental in bringing the modern architecture of California to the attention of the world. Almost instantly the plywood chair began being produced in the US and the EU.
The Eames’s work represented the nations defining movement, they embraced the era’s visionary concept of modern design. They integrated this concept into their personally designed and built home, 1949, in Pacific Palisades, California, as an approach to the Case Study House Programme. These experiments were sponsored and hosted by the Arts and Architecture magazine whom commissioned moving and monumental architects of the period to design and construct profitable, modest homes due to the residential housing boom caused by the post WWII shortages and the return of millions of soldiers. This build was just one of many modern architectural builds to be constructed during and after the war, as well as the prominent Unite D’Habitation building designed by sir Le Corbusier, highlighted in greater detail in my Bauhaus case study. Other influential architects such as Pierre Koenig and A. Quincy Jones contributed to building and designing model homes post-war.
The work of Charles and Ray Eames still lives on around the world, and Charles and Ray Eames styled chairs are sold around the world. Chairs such as the Charles Eames style DSW ‘Eiffel’ dining chair are sold from as little as £49 for copies, and Charles Eames style lounge chairs can go up to £800. Original Charles and Ray Eames chairs designed for Hille in the 1950’s can range from anything between £700 for the PSCC-4 office chair, to £4,000 for the vintage lounge chair, made from aluminium, rosewood and black leather. For more original Charles and Ray Eames pieces visit Pamono Vintage and Contemporary Furniture.
To finish the ever-so intriguing lecture on Charles and Ray Eames, we watched a short YouTube clip called the Introduction to the films of Charles and Ray Eames. Watching this quickly highlighted the many more successes of the pair, such as the Giant House of Cards 1953, a vintage card game with the cards measuring 11.5 x 7.5, printed on the cards were images taken from the “Arts, sciences and the world around us” on one side and alluring colour panels on the other; these giant cards can still be purchased today from the Eames shop.
The ‘Mathematica Exhibition’
This was another influential exhibition by Charles and Ray Eames, the exhibition is on permanent display at Boston’s Museum of Science and the New York Hall of Science. After 50 years visitors still adore its beauty and analysis of how mathematics shapes the world. Within the exhibition the Eames’s wanted to make maths and science fun to students and the public by “Letting the cat out the bag” as Charles said.
THINK @ the IBM Pavillion 1964
The think exhibition was part of the New York Worlds Fair, along with 140 other pavilions spread over 646 acres of land. The Think project was one of the largest and most monumental of their work to date. They took responsibility for the exhibitions, signage, graphics and films which all aimed to concentrate on the influence which computers had in the new society. The exhibition highlighted how man and machine are similar in the way in which we both process information, input and output.
Charles and Ray Eames today
The work of Charles and Ray Eames is still available and on display around the world, a current exhibition is being held at the Barbicon in London named “The world of Charles and Ray Eames”, the exhibition runs between 21st October – 14th February so this is definitely something which I would love to consider visiting as part of my studies and also for my self interests in their work. I will also be watching the timeless film “The architect and the painter“, a biography of how the pair together became one of the greatest success stories of the post war era. Their office was said to be like a ‘circus’ or like ‘walking into Disney land’, company’s’ such as Google have taken inspiration from such ergonomics within their London headquarters, implementing quirky aspects to create a vibrant, refreshing workspace.
I think the main thing which Howell wanted us to take from this romantic success story was to ’embrace everything in life.’ He gave us the example of when we are told not to do/look at something but something so deep inside us has the urge to do so anyway, this is because we want to experience things and feel things, we want to learn, no matter if it means putting ourselves through horror or happiness. To embrace every new thing and every opportunity in life gives us the experience which will be passed on through the generations of design, without this exposure we could not possibly implement good design to our best abilities. I suppose this pressure to embrace every experience in life has resulted in us becoming very eclectic, which means we take inspiration from a variety of sources and fields and bring them together in new personal ways. This is what keeps art and design alive, and this is what will make us historical and influential for hundreds of years to come. Something I have realised throughout my years of studying in art and design subjects, is that the work and designs we produce will keep our names living on long after we are deceased, and this is beautiful. Think about artists such as Van Gough, Leonardo Da Vinci, Salvador Dali, these late artists had been deceased way before I came into this world, however their work has inspired me hugely and although I never met the artists I feel as though I knew them. Express yourself within your work, take a different approach as well as implementing influential techniques within each piece you make. Be inspired by people like Charles and Ray Eames, they became well known for their plywood chairs and it could be said that perhaps the greatest Eames design of all was the image of Charles and Ray.