Ray and Charles Eames a partnership

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Ray and Charles EamesRay and Charles Eames 21 Aug 1977, Sun Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Florida) Newspapers.com

Thinking in pictures not words

Charles Eames is the inventor of the moulded plywood “potato chip” chair, the ubiquitous moulded plastic chair, and the leather and plywood lounge chair; he is also a film director, frontman, photographer, and exhibits designer, architect, lecturer, poet, husband and myth.

Ray Eames is the co-inventor and co-designer of the chairs and their methodology, an exhibits designer, a painter, a sculptor, a shop foreperson, an office manager, a mover and shaker, a joint venture partner, a soother of ruffled feathers, and a wife.

Charles Eames Loner

Charles Eames’s thoughts are profound and lonely. As if he thought in a language distinct from everyone else. He might have coined the expression “if you don’t know, I can’t tell you.” For all of his professional life, Charles Eames had sought a way of bringing knowledge back from that place where his thoughts dwell. Only Ray Eames, who married him in 1941, seemed to reach him in that distant place.

Use of Photography

When you ask a question, some people will tell you a story. The Eames presented you with a photograph. Clients who requested a proposal received a movie. After meeting someone for the first time, the Eames would photograph them. It appeared as though they were using the camera like a pair of magic eyeglasses, bringing the world into focus.

Their archives held an incalculable number of photographs ranging from toy boats to computers. Their labour and pleasure were painstakingly documented on film. Eames began photographing as a child after his father died, leaving him with a cache of photographic equipment he was fond of, stating that it took him years to realize roll film had been invented. He no longer needed to use wet emulsion. 

Film making

He also likes to claim that he began making films in the late 1950s due to a friend leaving a movie projector with the couple while he was on vacation, and they needed something to show on it. According to one of their old friends, to be an artist, one must “become as a small child.” The Eames films embodied both the simplicity and complexity of youth. Paul Shrader, a film critic and screenwriter, classifies them as “toy” and “idea” films.

For example, Tocatta for Toy Train (1957), the first big hit, was a short film entirely devoted to toy trains moving around and tracks that functions as a sort of “dance” to the commissioned musical score.

Powers of 10, probably the best no movie, is a short film whose actual title is Long: a Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film Dealing With the Powers of 10 and the Relative Size of the Things in the Universe. It begins with a close-up of a man sleeping in a park and zooms out to the outer reaches of space, using the man as the nucleus and a digital clock ticking off “10 to the umpteenth,” before zooming back into the nucleus of a carbon atom inside him.

Less is more communication.

It is not that Charles Eames is incapable of using words – one of his assistants, a writer, protested passionately that he taught her more about the precise use of the English language than she knew. But, on the other hand, Eames applied the same spare line dictum to words as he did to design. It’s almost as if he structured his conversation according to the International or Cranbrook adage “less is more.” His interviews bore a striking resemblance to Alexander Calder, another famous artist who communicated through his art, not his conversation.

It is a frequently told story that when Charles and Ray Eames designed and popularized the lounge chair and ottoman, a modernized barber’s chair, as a gift for film director Billy Wilder, Eames simply said, “Take chair.” And he has added, “The question?” to a meandering conversation.

Eames Chair replica
Eames Chair replica

Ray Eames and recognition

Furniture by Charles Eames” was exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1973. In 1975, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis hosted a Nelson-Eames-Girard-Propst exhibition titled “The Design Process at Herman Miller” and a PBS-TV special titled An Eames Celebration: Several Worlds of Ray and Charles Eames. In addition, Charles and Ray Eames’s work was featured in the 1977 exhibition “Connections: The Work of Charles and Ray Eames.”

In the early exhibitions, Charles received most of the credit, with Ray frequently serving as a footnote. However, as time passed, long-time employee Hap Johnson stated, “I suppose a lot of us realized that we had been undervaluing her.” Of course, she was performing the same functions she had always performed; she had always been a partner. It was simply that she was overlooked, as many women were at the time.

On Collaboration

They were full collaborators as husband and wife. Design is infrequently a solitary endeavour, and husband-and-wife teams are not uncommon. The collaborative nature of the Eames work, on the other hand, was easily obscured by Charles’s widespread public recognition as an individual designer and thinker. While he and Ray have shared numerous honours, he has received innumerable others on his own. He was the public face of the two, and this fact necessitates the use of masculine singular pronouns at times. Ray Eames, on the other hand, was personally involved in every design decision.

When asked who does what and when they were unable to respond succinctly. “I put things in,” Ray Eames explained, “and Charles takes them out.” Others observed that Charles excelled at paring down non-essentials. However, they appear to be incapable of explaining their operation as other people are describing how they breathe. It was observed that they might be fearful of thinking about it too much, lest they lose their ability to do it.

For a time, they manufactured the Eames chair in their workshops. George Miller convinced the Herman Miller Co. to hire them and produce and market their furniture in 1946. The 1956 lounge chair, the 1958 aluminium chair, the 1960 Time-Life lobby chairs, and New York’s La Fonda furniture were all added later. The 1962 tandem seating for Dulles and O’Hare airports and the upholstery and other chair variations.


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Conroy, S. B. (n.d.). From obscure imagination comes the essence of knowledge. Tampa Bay Times. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/79948569/ray-and-charles-eames/.

You may also be interested in

Charles Eames American designer, filmmaker and architect – Encyclopedia of Design

Charles Eames, a distinguished American designer, filmmaker and architect, studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis in 1924. In the early 1930s, having worked in private practice, he received a fellowship in 1936 to study architecture and design at the Academy of Art in Cranbrook, which proved to be a valuable experience.

Ray Eames an American Designer – Encyclopedia of Design

Ray Eames (b. Bernice Alexandra Kaiser 1912-88) was an American designer. She was born in Sacramento, California. She was the wife of Charles Eames. In creative partnership with her spouse Charles Eames and the Eames Office, she was responsible for groundbreaking contributions in the field of architecture, furniture design, industrial design, manufacturing and the photographic arts.

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