The Eames splint and the costume designer Posted November 13, 2014 by Marlow Hoffman

When the Eameses moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1941, Charles took a job as a carpenter and set designer at MGM Studios.  It was there that he met Margaret “Percy” Harris, who was starting out in the movie costume trade.

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MP_MIn008 Harris went on to great success in the film and theater industries.  When she died in 2000, The Guardian lamented her passing, explaining that it “leaves a large hole in the tapestry of the English theatre.”

You can read her complete obituary in The Guardian by clicking here.

Harris also played a role in the development of the Eames Leg Splint.  Before meeting her Charles and Ray had been working on methods of molding plywood, so that they could make a strong, lightweight, and very comfortable chair out of  hard,  flat plywood.  With the advent of World War 2, Charles and Ray, along with millions of Americans, turned their attention to the war effort.  In their case, it was to develop a better leg splint for the U.S. Navy.

In assembling a team to work on the plywood leg splint, it was a feat of inductive reasoning that led Charles and Ray to recruit a woman skilled as a seamstress.  They realized that Harris employed compound curves in her own work; she transformed cloth—another flat material—into blouses for women.  Charles and Ray thought her prowess could help their process.

Making well-shaped clothing required the use of “darts.”  If you look closely, you can see how important “darts” were to the leg splint.  They facilitated the molding of the wood, and they also served as gaps through which bandages could be wound, ensuring that the splint would stay on the leg.MP_MIn014

The Eameses created the design to address the U.S. Navy’s need for improved emergency transport splints for injured soldiers.  Little more than one year passed from the inception of their idea to the start of splint production.

Charles and Ray had great appreciation for traditional crafts and worked with many great craftsmen and women.   That’s how a Hollywood costume maker played an important role in the development of the first molded plywood product with compound curves.

By Daniel Ostroff.