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Charles and Ray Eames ❤ ‘They are one…’

A Vitra Anecdote

2021 marks the eightieth wedding anniversary of Charles and Ray Eames. Charles grew up in America’s industrial heartland and studied architecture for two years at Washington University in St. Louis, while Ray developed her artistic sensibilities in the theatre, dance and art programmes of the prestigious May Friend Bennett School in New York. The two first met at the Cranbrook Academy of Art outside Detroit, where Charles was an instructor of design and Ray was studying weaving, ceramics and metalwork.

They were both born before World War I, Charles Eames in 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri, and Ray Kaiser in 1912 in Sacramento, California. As a young man, Charles worked for various manufacturers and engineers, leading to a lifelong interest in mechanics and the complex functioning of things. Ray participated in the first great wave of American-born abstract artists, exhibiting her paintings alongside other modern artists and studying with Hans Hofmann.
Together, Charles und Ray Eames, today also known as ‘the architect and the painter’, joined forces to become a strong, dynamic, creative couple who made their mark on the twentieth century with a diverse range of epochal designs.
Charles and Ray married on 20 June 1941 in Chicago, Illinois. The gold wedding ring was designed and made by Harry Bertoia.

It was six months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the ensuing war effort spawned new synergies between art and industry. Immediately after their wedding, Charles and Ray drove cross-country to Los Angeles, California, where they would spend the rest of their lives. Here they sought to start anew, away from the social and professional distractions of Detroit, St. Louis and New York.

In Los Angeles the young couple began to establish strong ties within the local creative community. With the assistance of John Entenza, the publisher of Arts & Architecture magazine, they were able to lease a Neutra-designed apartment. Here they soon commenced their at-home experimentation with moulded plywood.
Within a short time, Charles and Ray Eames mobilised a group of inventive collaborators to design and produce moulded-plywood aircraft parts, leg splints and body litters for the US Navy and the local aviation industry.
These partnerships gave the Eameses access to funding and materials and led to the establishment of the Eames Office. Their experience with moulded plywood techniques ultimately resulted in the design and manufacture of a line of chairs, tables and screens. In particular, the Plywood Chair is today regarded as one of the most innovative seating designs of the twentieth century.
Charles and Ray Eames continued to investigate innovative materials and production methods, along with new ways of working and living. In the mid-1940s they designed their own residence, the Eames House, which was constructed of machined, off-the-shelf parts. In 1950 they achieved a pioneering breakthrough with the first all-plastic chair shell, combining seat, back and armrests in a continuous, organic shape. Further successes included the design of the luxurious – and now world famous – Eames Lounge Chair, and the ingenious structural idea for the Eames Aluminium Group: a textile membrane stretched tautly between two elegantly curved aluminium side members to form a sling-style seat.
The design duo, who had already proven their talent in the art of photography, extended their curiosity to the fields of filmmaking and multimedia and to the design of toys, textiles, graphics and exhibitions.
For the Eameses, design was much more than making products. Design was a daily practice on their journey towards personal mastery. Throughout their career, Charles and Ray made design their life and celebrated the gift of existence through their design work. Rarely was there any separation between their personal and professional worlds. As an example, the joyous occasion of an upcoming grandchild’s birthday party would typically be prepared in the Eames Office with the creation of unique gifts, along with decorations and interactive games.
On occasion people have attempted to distinguish Charles and Ray’s contributions and responsibilities within the Eames Office – but it is ultimately impossible to separate their individual roles. As their dear friend Billy Wilder once said: ‘They are one...’ Happy eightieth wedding anniversary, Charles and Ray Eames.

Charles Eames died on 21 August 1978, and Ray exactly ten years later to the day, on 21 August 1988.

Publication date: 10.9.2021
Author: Stine Liv Buur
Images: Eames Office LLC;
References: Catherine Ince, The World of Charles and Ray Eames; Library of Congress in partnership with Vitra Design Museum, The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention; Max Underwood, Inside the Office of Charles and Ray Eames; John and Marilyn Neuhart and Ray Eames, Eames design: The Work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames; Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey, The Architect and the Painter;

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