On December 15th 2012 Ray Bernice Alexandra Kaiser Eames would have celebrated her 100th birthday.
Born in Sacramento California, Ray Kaiser attended the May Friend Bennet School in Millbrook before in 1933 she moved to Manhattan where she studied painting under the tutorship of the German Abstractionist Hans Hofmann; and consequently found herself at the centre of the burgeoning abstract art scene in late 1930s New York. A highpoint of which was her participation in the inaugural American Abstract Artists group exhibition in 1937.
In the summer of 1940 Ray Kaiser spent four months at Cranbrook Academy of Art where, in addition to studying, she assisted Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen with their preparations for the New York Museum of Modern Art’s “Organic Furniture Competition.”
In 1941 Charles Eames and Ray Kaiser married.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Except of course. It isn’t.
The power and visual imagery of furniture design icons such as the Eames Lounge Chair or the Aluminium Chair Group make it all but impossible to imagine Charles and Ray Eames as separate entities. However, they were.
Following their wedding Charles and Ray Eames moved to Los Angeles to continue the research with moulded plywood Charles had began in Cranbrook with Eero Saarinen. Money being tight Charles took on freelance work, largely in the movie industry, while Ray continued with her artistic/graphic design pursuits creating covers for the avant-garde orientated magazine California Arts and Architecture. This period also saw Ray Eames create numerous textile designs including “Circles”, “Crosspatch” and the numerous variations on the “Dot Pattern”- all of which have recently been reissued by Mahram. Indeed the briefest of trawls through the Eames Archive produces a canon of work credited to Ray Eames that would suffice most designers for a whole career.
For Ray Eames it was however just the beginnings.
Over the years the relationship developed such that the borders between the two became ever more diffuse and by the 1950s all projects are officially Charles and Ray. Not least because they were. By popular convention Charles took on the technical aspects while Ray concentrated on the more aesthetic parts.
A particular good example is the so called “Eames House” the pair designed in 1949 as part of the California Arts and Architecture sponsored “Case Study House Program”. Ray Eames was responsible for the interior featuring a carefully considered mismatch of textiles, ornaments, junk, etc… A concept that although now understood as part of the Eames “Collage” philosophy, at the time was heavily criticised as standing in direct opposition to the ideals of Modernism that pair claimed to follow, and whose influence can be seen in the Eames House itself. With the benefit of 60 plus years hindsight one can now understand Ray’s intention as reclaiming the living space from the clinical control of modernism. Separating building from contents, architecture from design. Something which of course helped paved the way for what we, or at least Americans, understand today as mid-century modern. For which we can all be thankful.
And also means that, in effect, it is Ray Eames who we have to thank for all the playful objects one associates with Charles and Ray Eames, including most famously the Eames House Bird – the original of which stood in the Los Angeles Eames House.
Following the death of Charles Eames in 1978 Ray Eames immediately closed the Eames Studio and devoted herself to archiving the pairs work and collections.
Ray Eames died on August 21st 1988. Ten years to the day after her husband.
While obviously everyone is grateful for the objects, films, photos, etc that Ray and Charles Eames gave the world, it is also slightly regrettable that the individual talents of the two should be so heavily shrouded by their joint success.
And so we can think of no better way to celebrate Ray Eames’ centenary than by encouraging you all to investigate the works and talents of a remarkable artist and designer.
You wont be disappointed!
(Both images are taken from “The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention”. Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/eames/bio.html Accessed 14.12.2012)