Celebrate Women’s History Month: Learn about Ray Eames

e-Connections Post

Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser Eames was an American artist, designer and filmmaker. Along with her husband, Charles Eames, she is responsible for groundbreaking contributions in the field of architecture, furniture design, industrial design, manufacturing and the photographic arts.

Eames was born in Sacramento in 1912 and as a young child attended Sierra School (now the Sierra 2 Center for the Arts and the Community) in Curtis Park.

Eames’ parents, Alexander and Edna Burr Kaiser, taught their children to appreciate nature and encouraged inventiveness in their play. After her father’s untimely death in 1929, Ray Kaiser moved with her mother to New York, where Ray studied painting at the Art Students League.

On the death of her mother, Ray enrolled at the Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where she met Charles Eames, at that time head of the industrial design department. Ray soon belonged to the team collaborating on the designs by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, which the two designers intended to submit to the “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The main design was an armchair with the seat and back formed of a single piece of plywood molded in three dimensions. The chair won a prize but proved too complex for mass production. 

In 1941, Charles Eames divorced his first wife to marry Ray and the couple moved to Los Angeles, where Charles designed sets for MGM Studios and Ray Eames worked as a graphic designer for “Art & Architecture Magazine.”

Charles and Ray Eames continued to experiment in their flat with a press they called “Kazam! Machine” on molding plywood. In 1942, Charles and Ray Eames established the Plyformed Wood Company and designed splints and stretchers of molded plywood for the US Navy. Financial difficulties made the Eames sell the business to the Evans Product Company, where Charles Eames became head of the research and development division. Ray Eames continued to play a major role in the development of furniture.

Ray Eames died in Los Angeles in 1988, 10 years to the day after Charles. They are buried next to each other in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

For more information about Ray Eames, check out this Sac Magazine story