Monday, August 16, 2010

Studio Visit: Charles and Ray Eames

I was cutting up shirt cardboard, looking for ways to create a simple system that preschool kids could use to build simple arches and walls. I remembered Charles and Ray Eames's brilliant "House of Cards," a little box of slotted cards you could combine to build sturdy little constructions. Maybe slotted cards would be a solution. I found some shirt cardboard and began to cut 4x6 cards with slots.

I thought about the great design legacy of the Eameses. Their designs are timeless. They were done in the 1950's and 60's, but they are still fresh. You can find them in the Museum of Modern Art's Store catalogue. I called the MoMA Store to find out if the "House of Cards" box was in stock. It was, and I hurried there to buy it, and then spent the afternoon playing with different ways to play with those beautiful cards.

Who were Charles and Ray Eames?

Charles (1907–1978) and Ray (1912–1988) Eames (pronounced /ˈiːmz/) were American designers, who worked in and made major contributions to modern architecture and furniture. They also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art and film.

The Eameses were definitely among America's greatest designers. The husband and wife design team began designing products shortly after the Second World War. Production had slowed all over the world. Products needed to be energized, re-designed. They believed that products needed to be simpler, more practical, easy to use, easy to mass-produce, and above all beautiful. They were quintessential contemporary designers, at a time when contemporary design was becoming a great international force. They were passionate about design and quickly became an important part of the American design scene.

They had a major impact on the design world. They re-invented office chairs, giving them a sleek beauty that would be at home in the new contemporary architectural spaces.

They gave elegant little objects a new look, clocks, whimsical coat racks, humorous toys. Many of their products are still in production today. (See the Museum of Modern Art catalogue.)

The US federal government, in a moment of great wisdom, sent the Eameses around the world as ambassadors of American design. They helped establish America as an international resource for modern design excellence.

The Eameses took thousands of photographs of American design, new architecture, new products, art, everything they thought was exciting and beautiful. They used the images in multimedia shows and films, that taught corporate executives how to think about modern design.Their dedicated efforts to teach us about design helped place American designers in the center of international design, a position we continue to enjoy today.

Here is a link to the TED conference talk the Eameses grandson gave.

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