The Work of Charles and Ray Eames Comes to OMCA

The Work of Charles and Ray Eames Comes to OMCA


Charles and Ray Eames selecting slides.

The exhibition showcases their innovative design in architecture, furniture, product and textile design, film, and photography.

An industrial-size warehouse and a multiscreen cineplex might not be large enough to house and display American designers Charles and Ray Eames’ vast collection. In the Eames Office that they established in the early 1940s in Venice, Calif., their revolutionary work impacted the future course of architecture, furniture, product and textile design, film, and photography. Through a unique process combining creative play, rigorous engineering, and novel use of materials, theEameses produced 100 films, 350,000 photos, a furniture line that includes most famously the Eames chair and lounge chair, and countless paintings, drawings, love letters, handwritten notes, and other artifacts.

In presenting The World of Charles and Ray Eames at the Oakland Museum of California, curator Carin Adams said she recognized all too well the challenges. “Even reduced to a few over 300 items, it fills our entire Great Hall, about 10,000 square feet of space.”

The exhibition’s four sections first reveal the husband-and-wife team’s design process that used an empirical, problem-solving approach. After they understood and defined a problem or objective, they used multiple model iterations to find a solution. In the exhibit’s second section, model and real scale objects developed for public exhibitions, world’s fairs, and clients including IBM during the pre-PC era demonstrate the astounding range of their work’s application. One example is the

Eameses’ pioneering office design with open spaces that foreshadowed the no-office architecture of today’s Silicon Valley and beyond companies.

Focus shifts to multimedia projects in a third section with furniture, the Eameses’ extensive toy collection, and more. People familiar with their molded-plywood chairs and the splints and stretchers the couple developed for the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II may not realize products they have sat or spilled coffee upon were created by a man and a woman whose life and work were deeply collaborative.

Films and multimedia videos like the best-known Powers of Ten, screened in a final section, transition into workshop spaces. There, visitors create 3D paper sculptures to take home or attach to wires in a display area where lights will illuminate them and cast shadows. A second interactive lounge area, “Everything Connects,” invites people to spin in chairs, view the surroundings with kaleidoscopes, and engage in other game-centric activities.

Adams said people will leave the exhibit understanding the Eameses’ cultural significance and how design can cross platforms, from digital to urban planning to architecture to textiles to a widget on a desk. “They were following their interests and opportunities, and in doing that, they defined a field: design,” Adams said. In films, the high-speed succession of still and moving images, Adams suggested, is common to contemporary PowerPoint presentations but at the time was revolutionary. “I can’t help but make associations, but these were projects they did in the late ’50s and early ’60s.”

If the Eameses concerned themselves with interest in beautiful, functional design and the needs of their clients and society—and they did—importantly, they approached the work with joy, playfulness and immense curiosity. Work was a way to understand the world, to find a place in it. As a woman, Ray Eameses’ role wasn’t always acknowledged. “If you go back more than 20 years, Ray isn’t mentioned as often,” Adams said. “A big part of the exhibition is their partnership. Progressively, she gets equal footing; it’s her work—and his.”

After visiting OMCA and joining in the fun, perhaps applying to work and life the designers’ lively principles and process, it’s likely visitors will add, “And their work is also mine.”


The World of Charles and Ray Eames opened Oct. 13 and continues through Feb. 17 at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, The museum is open

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri., and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.-Sun.; it’s closed Mon.-Tue. Admission ranges from free for kids under 8 and members to $15.95 general admission.