Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Kaiser Eames, a leading American designer who excelled in furniture design, was responsible for theoretical contributions in art, design, and architecture. She, along with her creative partner and husband, Charles Eames, Jr., shaped the course of modernism through their artistic collaborations. For most of her life, she has been in the shadows of their successes, and there is so much more to learn about Ray.
Here are ten things you didn’t know about Ray Eames:
1. She enjoyed all aspects of art
Ray was always interested in a multitude of subjects; however, through her growing up years, she was drawn to ballet and art. In pursuit of her passion, she later went on to study fashion design, illustration, art history, art anatomy, poster art, sculpture, and expressionist art.
2. She founded the American Abstract Artists (AAA) group
After her six years of tutelage under abstract expressionism Hans Hofmann, a natural evolution led to her becoming one of the founding members of an artists group that promoted radical art in the city. The American Abstract Artists was established in 1936 in New York City to encourage abstract art and artists when galleries and museums refrained from displaying their works. The AAA acted as a refuge to experimental artists in the city and contributed to the country’s acceptance of abstract art.
3. Graphic design and magazine covers
In April 1942, Ray was commissioned by publisher and editor, John Entenza, to design covers for the Arts & Architecture magazine. She created a total of 26 covers that were very progressive and abstract in the Postwar Era. The journal, which was a trendsetter of its time and showcased many well-known architects and designers of the time, went on to feature quite a few of Eames’ own furniture designs.
4. Textile design and prints
Around 1947, Ray designed many textile patterns that displayed her distinctive abstract yet organic style. The Dot Pattern and the Cross Patch pattern were initially created for a textile competition at the Museum of Modern Art. The patterns were simplistic and were reminiscent of the era in which they were designed. The simplistic and geometric pattern made it a popular feature in residences. The Dot Pattern was even incorporated by American Airlines for bags for their business class travelers. Some of her textiles are still in production with Maharam, a leading creator for textiles for interiors.
5. Films & more
Ray, along with Charles, made over a hundred films in the 1960s. The duo portrayed their designs as well as conceptual ideas and critical thought processes in their movies. They produced short films on design, science, mathematics, and philosophy in a graphically compelling way showcasing visionary ideas and concepts.
6. Plywood Sculptures & Production
Ray always experimented with plywood sculptures before she produced the famous Eames plywood furniture. Her experiments featured organic and free-flowing forms using laminated plywood that was later refined and developed for production. At their studio, Ray put together and hand-built the prototypes for their initial designs.
The Eameses were one of the first designers to adopt a sustainable design ethic. In the 1970s, they even suspended the use of Rosewood in their studio over deforestation concerns in the Amazon forests.
8. Art of Collecting
Over the years, Ray began collecting objects and trinkets from different walks of her life. She collected tiny memorabilia from film sets, shells, miniature dishware, balls of yarn, and wrapping paper, all of which she found charming and was delighted by. She then had collections of well arranged and laid out objects in small glass boxes.
9. The original influencer
The Eames duo had considerable influence on American living, but it was Ray’s keen eye for objects, textiles, and handicrafts that set a new eclectic aesthetic for interior design. Among all the items featured in her own home, there were handicrafts from India, Mexico, and Japan, Native American rugs, paintings, plants, and floral arrangements, and everyday objects like pebbles and feathers. This aesthetic ensured a personal touch to interior spaces and could be achieved inexpensively. This simple method of design proved to be very influential in the Postwar Era.
10. Introduction of colors
Ray was said to have had an exceptional memory and sharp-sightedness. She paid great attention to detail, and this showed in her choices of color in spaces, materials, and furniture. The original colors of the famous Eames fiberglass chairs were greige, grey, and parchment. Ray introduced a seafoam green, yellow, and red to the mix, and soon these chairs were being produced in fourteen different colors.
Although her husband Charles never failed to appreciate her contributions, whether she chose to underplay her efforts in the husband-wife creative collaboration or was sidelined by a society that reflected the male-dominated culture would continue to stay a mystery. Nevertheless, her laudatory role in leading the thrust to modernize post-war America, through design, cannot be undermined or denied.