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The Eames Plywood Elephant

The playful offshoot of a serious idea

While Charles and Ray Eames are widely known for their epochal group of Plywood Chairs, they also developed a number of sculptures and toys in the same material. They wanted to probe the possibilities of this new and unexplored technique of moulding wood, and to save on materials they experimented with smaller objects and different shapes aside from the chairs. The Eames Plywood Elephant emerged as a playful offshoot of the designer couple’s research.

Charles and Ray Eames had a love of toys and a soft spot for elephants. Charles Eames used to say: Toys are really not as innocent as they look. Toys and games are the preludes to serious ideas. While the Eames Plywood Elephant may not seem like the beginning of a serious idea, it represents an important step in the development of the moulded plywood technique. Together with the Plywood Chairs the sculptural animal came to symbolise a new era within the modern design industry and plywood soon became a favoured material for other furniture designers around the world.

The Eames Plywood Elephant was produced with tooling designed and built in the Eames Office and was introduced to the public in December 1945 along with the Plywood Chairs, first at the Barclay Hotel press and trade show and later in 1946 at the Architectural League preview and at The Museum of Modern Art. However, the Eames Plywood Elephant never went into production at the time. It was not until 2007 that Vitra ran a limited edition of 2000 pieces to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Charles Eames, followed by the introduction of the Eames Plywood Elephant as a permanent part of Vitra’s Eames portfolio in 2017.

The Plywood Elephant made in 1945 was given to Charles Eames’s only daughter, Lucia Eames, and is still in the possession of the Eames family today. Occasionally it tours with exhibitions on the Eameses, and lucky visitors can see the very piece formed and built by Charles and Ray Eames.

Now in 2020, the Eames Elephant will be 75 years old. To commemorate this anniversary, Vitra is launching a special series in grey-stained wood – bringing the intricately produced collector's item even closer to its living counterparts.


Publication date: 10.9.2020
Images: © Eames Office, LLC; Vitra;