Happy 112th Birthday to Charles Eames! Posted June 17, 2019 by Marlow Hoffman
Eames fans often ask what Charles’s personality was like, what philosophies he held dear, and how he approached both work and life. In celebration of his birthday, we’re taking a closer look!
There is no shortage of questions that people have about Charles’s life and work. What was he like? How did he view design? How did he perceive the world around him? Luckily, many interviews and texts feature his own words, allowing Charles to shed light on these topics for himself. In a June 1972 article published in USIA magazine Ameryka for distribution in Poland, Charles filled in responses to a series of questions. Here are a few:
“Definition of design: ‘A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.’
Profession: ‘I think of myself officially as an architect; I look at the problems around us as problems of structure. The tools we use are often connected with the arts, but we use them to solve very specific problems. . . .I think of architects as tradesmen–and it doesn’t seem an unflattering idea. Anyone who calls himself an artist is suspect to me because an artist is a title you sort of earn, you don’t gain it by choosing a line of work.’
Method: ‘As a rule, several of us work together on a project. We start gradually, like most love affairs. We only begin to ignite when every living moment is dedicated to the search. (We contact all people who might possibly provide even a drop of information.)’
Training for a career in design: ‘The best preparation is a general education. I’ve never found a good mind that allowed techniques to stand in its way. By education I do not mean schooling—I mean the development of a sensitivity to the forces that give structure to life.’
The Eames chair: ‘In our chairs, we have not attempted to solve the problem of how people should sit. Instead, we accepted the way people do sit and operated within that framework.’
Approach: ‘I think the search for rewarding experience comes directly from the business of getting on with daily life. When we planned the IBM wall, we weren’t immediately worrying about communicating with the public. We were simply trying to understand the computer ourselves. I feel that if we can genuinely satisfy ourselves, we have a fair chance of reaching other people. Never for one moment did we think of the exhibition as a marriage of art and science; we always viewed it as part of life.’
Play: ‘One of the things that seems to be common among those who tend to not be miserable is the ability to have concern [for], get pleasure from, and respect objects, people, and things that are of no immediate value to them. Respect for the thing that isn’t going to pay off tomorrow. Because tomorrow’s problems are going to be different, and the things that come to your rescue are often the things you learn to respect when you had no idea they were going to be of value.'”
First-hand quotes from Charles such as these help us to understand the ideas, philosophies, and approaches that he applied to his life and work with Ray. The couple kept everything, leaving behind a wealth of information. Before her death, Ray donated 910,000 objects to the Library of Congress alone. A rich sampling of those primary source documents, including film scripts, interviews, letters, notes, speeches, and articles (including the excerpt above) can be read in the book An Eames Anthology, fleshing out our view of how Charles Eames lived and worked, while the playful images we have of Charles point to the fun that was imbued into everything he did.
Cheers to Charles!