Norton Lectures

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1970 – 1971

Harvard University established the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry in 1925 as an annual lectureship named for the university’s former professor of fine arts, Charles Eliot Norton. Each year, the school appoints an individual who has made a significant contribution to literature, music, or the fine arts. That person delivers a series of six lectures to the university community. In 1970, Harvard University selected Charles Eames, who thus joined a group of influential figures, including T.S. Eliot, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Stella, and John Cage, and many others.

Charles’s series focused on “Problems Relating to Visual Communication and the Visual Environment.” The talks were held at the Loeb Drama Center and then later moved to the Harvard Theater to accommodate the large crowds.

Charles organized his lectures around the longtime concerns and preoccupations that he and Ray held. This included their belief in the importance of finding value in experiences of everyday life; the need to recognize the difference between choices and constraints; the importance of discipline; identifying continuities and discontinuities; and building connections. He also touched upon the usefulness of modeling as a technique to “walk through an experience in order to regroup and try again.”

Visual material—including films, film clips, and slide shows—was an integral component of each highly orchestrated talk. Every aspect of the presentations highlighted the Eameses’ belief in honoring the Guest/Host Relationship. In one of his first talks, attendees entered an atrium brimming with freshly cut flowers—a welcome sight in the middle of a New England winter. At his next lecture, one month later, Charles told the audience that he’d again brought in hundreds of flowers, because the previous time he’d forgotten to mention that all those blooms were intended for them—his guests—to take home and enjoy.