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ray and charles eames

Icons of American modern architectural and furniture design, the pair, who married in 1941, seems to have been successful in whatever they attempted – and they had a wide range of interests and accomplishments.

Charles Ormond Eames, Jr. and Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Kaiser Eames were American designers much renowned in their own lifetimes for their designs in modern architecture and furniture. Charles studied architecture for two years on a scholarship, but tradition has it that he was reprimanded and asked to leave after his second year because he supported modernistic furniture and architecture and, most importantly and specifically, Frank Lloyd Wright.

He met his first wife, Catherine Woerman while he matriculated at Washington University and they married in 1929. A year later, his only child, a girl named Lucia, was born. This marriage was not a successful one and they divorced in 1941.

One important influence in Eames’ life was the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen who had a son named Eero. Charles liked Eero very much as a personal friend and Eero later became a partner in New York, as he was an architect, as well. The older Saarinen encouraged Charles and his family to move to Michigan to study architecture at Cranbrook Academy of Art and they did accept this idea and moved in 1938. He became a teacher there and also headed up the industrial design department.

Working with Eero Saarinen and Ray Eames, he designed furniture for a New York City museum competition, for which the team received a prize. In this competition, they first used the technique of Wood Molding, the idea borrowed from the first person who used it, Alvar Aalto. This process is still in use and all the new Eames furniture produced is built by Herman Miller. A check of e-Bay reveals that vintage Eames furniture has lost very little of its value and, sometimes, sells for more than the new version of the same piece.

Charles Eames further developed this technique of wood molding and incorporated it into many products including other pieces of furniture as well as splints and stretchers for the United States Navy during World War II.

After his divorce from Catherine, Charles married a colleague from Cranbrook, Ray Kaiser. The couple moved to Los Angeles, CA, where they lived and worked together the rest of their lives. In the late 40’s, as part of Arts & Architecture Magazine’s “case study” program, the couple designed and built the “Eames House #8” , as their home. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean and was hand-constructed in a matter of a few days from pre-fabricated parts designated for industrial construction. It remains a milestone of modern architecture and now houses the Eames Foundation.

Ray, Bernice Alexandra Kaiser Eames, was an American artist, designer and filmmaker who, together with her husband Charles, are responsible for many classic designs of the 20th century.

After she completed her studies in Millbrook, N.Y., Ray began study at Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She met Charles while assisting him and Eero in the NY competition, which the team won. Their later use of wood molding techniques impacted almost all of their wooden furniture design from that point forward. Some of their more famous works in include the Eames Dax Chair, the famous Eames Herman Miller Lounge chair, and the two seat version of that incredible piece. She and Charles married a year after working together on the competition project.

Ray had lived in many cities with her parents before beginning undergraduate study at Bennett Women’s College in Millbrook, N.Y. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where Hans Hoffman, her teacher, introduced her to abstract expressionist painting. The Whitney Museum of Modern Art has one of her works in its permanent collection.

She and Charles enjoyed outstanding careers in design and architecture. Ray’s name was left off many of the drawings and plans for some years, during which time she was heavily contributing to the work. As people began to understand her contributions, her name was added and she was considered a full partner with Charles and Eero.

Charles Eames died of a heart attack August 21, 1978, during a trip to St. Louis, the city in which he was born. In 1988, Ray died on the tenth anniversary of her husband’s death.

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