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Women Who Made History: Ray Eames

Women Who Made History: Ray Eames

Women Who Made History: Ray Eames

We sit on their chairs in our homes, offices, waiting rooms, even some schools.We see their famous chairs in countless editorial spreads. Their name is synonymous with elegant, contemporary design.  Incredibly, I think they are one of the few design teams that I can remember that you know who both of the designers are, not just the creative or figurative head of the team. I’m referring to Ray Eames, one very equal and vital half of the duo that was Eames Design.

The future designer Ray Eames was born Bernice Alexandra Kaiser (nicknamed Ray-Ray by her family) in Sacramento, California, in 1912. After finishing high school, she moved to New York City with her widowed mother, studying with famed German Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann and eventually exhibiting her paintings. After her mother’s death, Ray continued her education, moving to Michigan to study at the Art Academy in Cranbrook. Here she met Charles Eames, who was one of her teachers and mentors.  After divorcing his first wife, Charles married Ray in Chicago in 1941. Soon after, the couple left for Southern California, where they opened a design studio and made ends meet by Charles designing sets for MGM Studios and Ray working as a graphic designer for Art & Architecture Magazine.

The resulting creative partnership produced some of the world’s most recognizable modern furnishings, including the “LCW” and “LCM” chairs, the “Eames Lounge and Ottoman” (perhaps the most recognizable piece they ever created) and the “Time-Life Stools” (which critics hail as her crowing achievement). Additionally, the couple designed homes, monuments, exhibitions and toys for the masses, utilizing new materials and technology that would allow high quality products to be produced at low cost. They also developed production processes, supplying the U.S. Navy with leg splints and stretchers in World War II, before returning to molded plywood for their famous chairs in the post-war years. In addition to their designs, the Eames’ also developed multi-screen presentations for schools and corporations, forever altering the public’s idea of what a traditional slideshow should be. They also dabbled in film, directing over 80 experimental films.

Although Charles was the public face of the company and it’s charismatic leader, Ray was by no means a silent, secondary partner. She kept extensive photographic records of their work and was an equal partner in every project, including the films they made. She also had a great visual memory, and paid great attention to color choice and material selection. She loved found art and enjoyed creating displays for their exhibitions, always creating a special visual effect for audiences.

After Charles’ death in 1978, Ray disbanded Eames Design and turned to archiving and preserving their legacy as designers, even collaborating on a number of books about the studio she created with her husband. After a lifetime of creativity, it comes as no surprise that Ray Eames passed away ten years to the day after her husband, completing a life of groundbreaking, intelligent and collaborative design.

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