Chair Camp

Chair Camp: Where 1,000 students, ranging from third through twelfth grade, come together to design their own miniature chairs and learn valuable Eamesian principles.

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Carla Hartman, Director of Education at the Eames Office, first developed Chair Camp in 1998 when she worked as an educator at the Denver Art Museum. For several years, the camp was structured as an all-day, week-long class for 9-12 year-olds. Since then, it has taken many forms and has been presented to a variety of audiences in cities and countries across the globe. One constant has been the presentation of Charles and Ray’s oeuvre as well as their principles for work and play as a framework for discussion about chair designs.

Until 2012, camp capacity was 20-25 people, but that limitation changed in 2011 after an introductory meeting between the Eames family and the Grand Rapids ArtPrize team. When Hartman was asked “How many kids do you really want at Chair Camp?” she replied, “1,000.”

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In 2012, the ArtPrize staff helped to make this dream a reality. One thousand kids (from third through twelfth grade) gathered together in the Marriott Ballroom in Grand Rapids to create their own chairs. Since that success, smaller groups of students divided into three age groups have convened at the Grand Rapids Public Museum to make chairs. Two more groups were added in 2014: one for families and one for university students.

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The Eameses believed in the principle of “learning by doing.” Despite participants being familiar with chairs as a result of sitting in them every day, the act of making a miniature chair inevitably makes the designer aware of the “constraints and needs” required for each material and for each seat—whether functional or sculptural.

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Younger participants begin with paper die-cuts developed by Hartman and embellish their chairs with recycled material collected by Betsey Hamm of Learning from Scratch. Older students, particularly those in high school and college, use only recycled materials for their design.

Recently, a Holland high school teacher has taken Chair Camp into her own classroom by offering pre-visit and post-visit classes. Her students created a 50-page book entitled Eames Inspired. Hartman created a video of some of those students discussing their Chair Camp 2014 creations.

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