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Remembering Grandpa Charles

Eames Demetrios is the grandchild of Charles and Ray Eames, one of America’s most celebrated design and architecture teams. Will Wright invoked the Eames film “Powers of Ten” in his talk about Spore – Eames designs have had a profound influence on different aspects of American design.

It’s Charles Eames centernary, and we see some Eames designs that are less archetypal – a movie of clown makeup designed as a training film for clown colleges, a film made for the Moscow World’s Fair, designed to be show on seven screens, 200 feet across. Demetrios points out that Eames emphasized connections between the US and Russia – “the same stars shine down, our cities look much the same from the sky.” There were more images than anyone could process – the desire was to present the gestalt.

“When people say design, they usually mean style” – but Charles and Ray tried to design, which meant solving problems, not making things look a certain way. “The designer should be like a thoughtful host anticipating a guest.” This means solving a problem through iteration, modeling and repetition, which makes the high modernism of Eames very much like vernacular art.

We see the first film Charles Eames ever made, in 1939 – a study of a pottery wheel made for the Cranbrook faculty exhibition. Demetrios points out that Eames was making this film at the first time as making early chairs – the creativity was synchronous, not serial.

Eames Demetrios is making his own art – three-dimensional fiction about an alternative America called Kymerica. Much of the art involves plaques installed at important places in the history of this alternative America. His point – “the visual environment is not inevitable.”

Some of the most beautiful objects are those the Eames made from molded plywood – hanging from above the stage are some beautiful splints made from molded plywood, designed to help soldiers in World War II. More moving (to me, at least) is a plywood elephant designed as a children’s toy. He ends with a Charles Eames quote: “Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.”

(No, I don’t know what it means, either. But I’m looking forward to thinking about it.)