Charles and Ray Eames were a couple of American designers whose design legacy was above all a series of furnishings, in particular chairs and seats, which have become icons in the history of design.
Charles Eames, born 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri, studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis and designed a number of houses and churches in collaboration with various partners. His work caught the attention of Eliel Saarinen, who offered him a fellowship at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1938. In 1940, he and Eero Saarinen won first prize in the 'Industrial Design Competition for the 21 American Republics' - also known as 'Organic Design in Home Furnishings' – organised by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Eames was appointed head of the industrial design department at Cranbrook the same year.
Ray Eames was born as Bernice Alexandra Kaiser in Sacramento, California, in 1912. She attended Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, and continued her studies in painting at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts until 1937. During this year she exhibited her work in the first exhibition of the American Abstract Artists group at the Riverside Museum in New York. She matriculated at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1940.
Charles and Ray Eames married in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles, where together they began experimenting with techniques for the three-dimensional moulding of plywood. The aim was to create comfortable chairs that were affordable. However, the war interrupted their work, and Charles and Ray turned instead to the design and development of leg splints made of plywood, which were manufactured in large quantities for the US Navy. In 1946, they exhibited their experimental furniture designs at MoMA. The Herman Miller Company in Zeeland, Michigan, subsequently began to produce Eames furniture, production that continues today for the United States.
Charles and Ray participated in the 1948 'Low-Cost Furniture' competition at MoMA, and they built the Eames House in 1949 as their own private residence. In addition to their work in furniture design and architecture, they also regularly turned their hand to graphic design, photography, film and exhibition design.
In 1957 Vitra signed a license agreement with Herman Miller and began producing Eames projects for Europe and the Middle East.
After the initial success of the company, a joint venture was established under the name of Herman Miller AG to promote the business, a partnership accompanied by a warm personal relationship between the Herman Miller De Pree family and the Vitra Fehlbaum family.
For over two decades, companies have successfully collaborated to establish a market for good design and promote Eames, Girard and Nelson's projects in Europe. When the partnership was dissolved in 1984, the rights to the designs of Eames, Girard and Nelson were assigned to Vitra for Europe and the Middle East, while the program and the name of Herman Miller were maintained by Herman Miller.
The two companies continue to maintain friendly relations and, together with the descendants of Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard and George Nelson, keep the spirit of these great designers alive.
Among the best known design objects of Charles and Ray Eames: Chair Kleinhans 1939, collaboration with Eero Saarinen; Organic Armchair, presented at the Organic Furniture 1940 Competition, in collaboration with Eero Saarinen; Children's chairs 1945; LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) 1945, a design cult, still in production for more than 50 years; Circular wooden table 1945; DCW (Dining Chair Wood) 1946; Eames RAR (Rocker Armchair Rod) Rocker 1948; La chaise, chaise longue, 1948, in fiberglass; Eames Eiffel, plastic chair 1950, also in variant with armrests; Eames Desk and Storage Units 1950, steel furniture, plywood, fiberglass and other innovative materials; Eames Sofa Compact (1954); Eames Lounge Chair 1956, chaise longue composed of an armchair with ottoman in curved plywood and upholstered furniture, a great success, still in production today; Aluminum Management Chair 1958 office system, still in production; Walnut stool (3 types: A, B and C) 1960; Tandem sling seating 1962.
Furniture by Charles and Ray Eames has been a cornerstone of the Vitra Design Museum collection since its inception. A major part of the objects in the couple's estate was received in 1988. After presenting the exhibition 'The Work of Charles and Ray Eames' in 1997/98, the Vitra Design Museum is now holding a comprehensive retrospective of the couple's lifework in 2017/18 entitled 'An Eames Celebration', divided into four parallel exhibitions on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein. To mark the occasion, the Vitra Design Museum has published the 'Eames Furniture Sourcebook' and 'Essential Eames: Words & Pictures'.
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