Known the world over as the Eameses, Charles and Ray were a couple of American designers active during the mid-20th century. They met in 1940 at the renowned Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where Charles, an established architect and designer, was head of the industrial design department. Before their meeting, Charles had studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis. His work brought him into contact with Eliel Saarinen, who offered him a scholarship to Cranbrook in 1938. Thanks to this opportunity, he collaborated with Saarinen's son, Erno, experimenting with new production methods for moulded and curved plywood furniture. Their Organic Chair won an award at MoMa in New York in 1940.
Ray-Berenice Alexandra Kaiser was born in 1912 in Sacramento, California. Before studying at Cranbrook, Ray attended Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, then the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts until 1937. She was already a well-known abstract painter in New York when she met Charles. The two married in 1941 and immediately moved to Los Angeles. Their professional partnership was based on Charles' interest in technology, materials and production processes, which dovetailed perfectly with Ray's approach focusing more on the aesthetic and formal aspects. As a result of their experimentation with wood bending and plywood moulding, the pair received a major contract from the US Navy in 1942. This work encouraged them to establish a plywood company, Plyformes Wood Company, later sold to Evans Products Company of Detroit. In 1946, Charles was invited by MoMa to mount a solo exhibition entitled "New Furniture Designed by Charles Eames". Here, the couple exhibited prototypes of their moulded plywood chairs and curated video and sound installations. The exhibition gave them the opportunity to meet Herman Miller, who became one of their most important clients.
At the same time, the couple continued to experiment with new materials, including glass fibre reinforced polyester resin. The result was the iconic fibreglass La Chaise chair with a chrome base, oak feet, and an unusual futuristic shape. The chair was shown in the couple's second solo exhibition in 1948 at MoMA entitled "International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design". Considered too expensive and difficult to make, La Chaise only went into production in 1997 by Vitra, the second company, along with Herman Miller, to produce the Eames' original pieces. Other iconic objects that have made their way into the design history books include the Eames Lounge Chair with its Ottoman footrest (1956), the Plywood seating collection (1945-46), the Occasional Table (1950), the Eames Storage Unit ESU shelving system (1949) and the Eames Fiberglass Shell Chair series (1950). The couple died ten years apart, Charles in 1978 and Ray in 1988.
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