Celebrating Ray Eames and her “World of Numbers” Posted December 13, 2019 by Marlow Hoffman

In celebration of Ray’s birthday, we invite you to explore the first exhibition she created with Charles in 1961, the still-famous installation of Mathematica: A World of Numbers . . . and Beyond.

On December 15, 2019, Ray would have turned 107 years old. To celebrate her during her birthday month, we invite you to do something that would have made her exceedingly happy: Take some time to explore the exhibition Mathematica: A World of Numbers . . . and Beyond. Discover its intricacies on our website, or, better yet, visit the show in person. It’s still on view in three locations in the United States: Boston, Massachusetts; Queens, New York; and Dearborn, Michigan.

As evidenced in the passage below from a 1980 interview with Ruth Bowman, Ray believed deeply in the Eames Office’s work for IBM, and it would have delighted her to no end that today’s generation still has the opportunity to experience the magic, richness, and playfulness of this interactive show:

“We’d done many exhibits for IBM, who have been the most wonderful clients, I think, that you could imagine because they wanted something to happen and didn’t care, didn’t make it part of it to be selling anything, you know. They felt that the value was in making better people—more educated and interested people. It was a great reward for that, but we’ve done many exhibits for them, and each time I’ve had a similar problem. We had much background in the exhibitions we had done for IBM over the years. We’d done films, too. We did ‘Mathematica,’ which is still here today. Oh, thank heaven, I want it to be here. Each new generation, each year, some new person can have a brush with the idea that I think is so important. We’ve always thought that it was so important to have children feel a glimpse of the pleasure that is inherent in the subject and which mathematicians enjoy so much. It’s usually missed in school training. But anyway, that whole subject of how to deal with it in ‘Mathematica’ was saying that it has to be understandable to a bright teenager and not embarrass the most knowledgeable readers.”

We relish, as Ray did, the arrow zipping around the Mobius Strip. We smile at the thousands of balls, bouncing and pinging their way into a bell curve, until they pause—tension building—and crash with surprise to the bottom of the Probability Machine. We marvel at the iridescent, gossamer beauty of soap bubbles, each one delicately forming on a wire frame, poetically revealing the minimal surface for that shape. We continue to savor these and the many other joys Mathematica offers through its interactive and visual storytelling. We hope you do too!

Cheers to Ray. We’re grateful for the pleasure her work and legacy continue to bring the world.

To read the full 1980 interview between Ray Eames and Ruth Bowman, visit the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.