Charles Ormond Eames, Jr
(1907–1978) and Bernice Alexandra "Ray" Eames
née Bernice Kaiser
were American designers, who worked in and made major contributions to modern architecture
. They also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art
In the 1950s, the Eames' continued their work in architecture and modern furniture design. Like in the earlier molded plywood work, the Eames' pioneered innovative technologies, such as the fiberglass, plastic resin chairs and the wire mesh chairs designed for Herman Miller. Charles and Ray would soon channel Charles' interest in photography into the production of short films. From their first film, the unfinished Traveling Boy (1950), to the extraordinary Powers of Ten (1977), their cinematic work was an outlet for ideas, a vehicle for experimentation and education.
The Eames' also conceived and designed a number of landmark exhibitions. The first of these, Mathematica: a world of numbers...and beyond (1961), was sponsored by IBM, and is the only one of their exhibitions still extant. The Mathematica Exhibition is still considered a model for scientific popularization exhibitions. It was followed by "A Computer Perspective: Background to the Computer Age" (1971) and "The World of Franklin and Jefferson" (1975–1977), among others.
The office of Charles and Ray Eames, which functioned for more than four decades (1943–88) at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, California, included in its staff, at one time or another, a number of remarkable designers, like Henry Beer and Richard Foy, now co-chairmen of CommArts, Inc.; Don Albinson; Deborah Sussman; Harry Bertoia; and Gregory Ain, who was Chief Engineer for the Eameses during World War II. Among the many important designs originating there are the molded-plywood DCW (Dining Chair Wood) and DCM (Dining Chair Metal with a plywood seat) (1945), Eames Lounge Chair (1956), the Aluminum Group furniture (1958) and as well as the Eames Chaise (1968), designed for Charles's friend, film director Billy Wilder, the playful Do-Nothing Machine (1957), an early solar energy experiment, and a number of toys.
The couple often produced short films in order to document their interests, such as collecting toys and cultural artifacts on their travels. The films also record the process of hanging their exhibits or producing classic furniture designs. Some of their other films cover more intellectual topics. For example, one film covers the purposefully mundane topic of filming soap suds moving over the pavement of a parking lot. "Powers of Ten" (narrated by the late physicist Philip Morrison), gives a dramatic demonstration of orders of magnitude by visually zooming away from the earth to the edge of the universe, and then microscopically zooming into the nucleus of a carbon atom.
Charles Eames died of a heart attack on August 21, 1978 while on a consulting trip in his native Saint Louis, and now has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Ray died 10 years later. At the time of Charles' death they were working on what became their last production, the Eames Sofa, which went into production in 1984.
From the beginning, the Eames furniture has usually been listed as by Charles Eames; indeed in the 1948 and 1952 Herman Miller bound catalogs, only Charles' name is listed, but it has become clear that Ray was deeply involved and should be considered an equal partner. The Eames fabrics (many are currently available from Maharam) were mostly designed by Ray, as were the Time Life Stools. But in reading the various books on Eames, and seeing the photos of furniture development, it is clear that Ray's involvement is absolute. In 1979, the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded Charles and Ray with the Royal Gold Medal.