Early Life and Education
Bernice “Ray” Alexandra Kaiser was born in Sacramento, California on December 15, 1912. She was the only daughter of Alexander and Edna Burr Kaiser, and had one brother named Maurice. Eames attended Bennett Women’s College in Millbrook, NY, graduating in 1933, and going on to study art in New York City with Hans Hoffman. Kaiser studied abstract expressionist painting and founded the American Abstract Artists Group in 1936. Her first art show was at the Riverside Musuem in Manhattan and one of her paintings is part of the permanent collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
In the fall of 1940, she attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where she took a class taught by her future husband, Charles. Her detailed notes, now at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., are believed to be the only record of his first season of lectures in the United States. Eames first worked with Charles and Eero Saarinen in preparing designs for the Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Furniture Competition. The designs were created by molding plywood into complex curves, winning the team two first prizes. Charles divorced his first wife, Catherine, in 1941 and soon after married Ray. Charles died in August 1978, while Ray continued working until her death in August 1988. She passed away ten years to the day after Charles.
Career in Architecture
The Eameses moved to California in 1941, working on more furniture designs that included molded plywood. They opened Eames Office at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice Beach. Ray and Charles were known for crafting “the Eames look” with their unique take on modern furniture, architecture, graphic and indusrial design, fine art, and film. The Eameses were known for melding the needs of the client, society, the designer with the materials available to them. During World War II, they were commissioned by the Navy to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers and experimental glider shells. In 1946, through Evans Products, they began producing molded plywood furniture. Versions of the Eames Chair and Eames Ottoman would become of two of their most recognizable projects. Their office was located in the industrial area from 1943 to 1988. The pair worked on many projects, with their residence being of special interest. The Eames House was built in Pacific Palisades, CA as part of the Case Study House Program sponsored by Arts and Architecture Magazine. Notably, it was built with the strict usage of only construction metal stressed to look like wood.
In the 1950’s the Eameses began to work with film as a medium. They created over 125 short films (ranging from 2-30 minutes), delving into subjects from toy trains to the world of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, from tiny sea creatures to the explanation of advanced mathematical and scientific concepts, such as the workings of the computer. Film titles include: Traveling Boy (1950), Blacktop: A Story of the Washing of a School Play Yard (1952), Parade Parade Or Here They Are Coming Down Our Street (1952, )A Communications Primer (1953), House: After Five Years of Living (1955), Day of the Dead (1957), Toccata for Toy Trains (1957), Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair (1960), Powers of Ten (1968, rereleased in 1977), Image of the City (1969), Banana Leaf (1972),
Fiberglass Chairs, SX-70, and Eames Lounge Chair.
The Eameses designed numerous museum exhibits for IBM (Mathematica, The World of Franklin and Jefferson, Copernicus, and the 1964 New York World’s Fair), the Smithsonian Institution, and others. They also created a seven-screen slide show for the American Exposition in Moscow (1959). Ray and Charles received honorary degrees and awards from universities and organizations across the country, as well as awards for their innovative designs (see below). Ray’s stepdaughter Lucia Eames and Ray’s grandson Eames Demetrios still operate Eames Office releasing the original designs in furniture, films and media, while creating new products. In 2007, the Eames Office moved to 850 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA.
Major Buildings and Projects
- Bridge house (Eames-Saarinen) (1945)
- Entenza House (1949)
- Eames House, Pacific Palisades, CA (1949)
- Max De Pree House (1954)
- Eames Chair
- Eames Ottoman
Press and Awards
- Organic Furniture Competition, Museum of Modern Art, 1940
- Emmy Award, (Graphics), “The Fabulous Fifties,” 1960
- Kaufmann International Design Award, 1961
- 25 Year American Institute of Architects Award, 1977
- Eliot Norton Chair of Poetry, Harvard, 1971
- Queen’s Gold Medal for Architecture, 1979
- Named “Most Influential Designer of the 20th Century,” WORLDESIGN ’85, Industrial Designers Society of America, 1985
- The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention, Traveling Exhibition, Library of Congress, 1999
- Curbed, 2011
- Film: Eames: The Architect and the Painter
- Film: The Films of Charles & Ray Eames
Eames’s notes can be found at the Library of Congress
- Library of Congress