the Eames workshop
Sections: Biography | Space | Culture | Beauty | Furniture | Science

Charles and Ray Eames's philosophy of the educational role of everyday things led them to develop projects that would spur people to find beauty in the commonplace. Charles heard the music of Bach in the splash of soapy water on an asphalt schoolyard—and made the film Blacktop. Ray saw beauty in the shape of a utilitarian leg splint—and made elegant sculptures. The Eameses' ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary is one of their greatest legacies.

The Eameses' films and slide shows gave the spectator, in Charles's words, a "new depth of vision." Encompassing an enormous breadth of subject matter, the Eameses' slide shows were assembled for friends, for school courses and lectures, as well as for their corporate events. Like objects themselves, the Eameses' slides were valuable vehicles of information, providing essential connections to distant times, places, and cultures.

Wire chair, circa 1951, photograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-16)

In the Eames Office, photographing experimental furniture was an essential step of the design process.

Mold for La Chaise with shadow patterns, 1948. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-17)

Slides by the Eameses

Multi-screen slide shows were perhaps the Eameses most effective method for presenting everyday things in new ways and relationships. Encompassing an enormous breadth of subject matter, the slide shows were assembled for school courses and lectures as well as for corporate events. For these elaborate presentations, the Eameses drew upon their meticulously catalogued collection of approximately 350,000 slides: their very own "cabinet of curiosity."

1 of 4

  • Artist Jackson Pollock in his Studio, 1950, photograph. Courtesy Hans Namuth Studio (D-2)

  • Lounge chair prototype, designed 1945, molded plywood, slunk-skin upholstery, and rubber (D-11)

  • Ray Eames. Painting by Ray, gouache on varnished plywood. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (D-12)

  • Chair with drawing by artist Saul Steinberg, circa 1952, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, metal, and rubber. Lent by Lucia Eames (D-14)

Blacktop (1952). 10:47 minutes.

Blacktop depicts the abstract shapes produced by the movement of soapy water across the asphalt surface of a schoolyard near the Eames Office. Charles shot the film with a 16mm hand-held camera while office colleague Don Albinson controlled the hose and movement of the water. Although he was still an amateur, Charles edited the film himself on homemade equipment, synchronizing it to Bach's Goldberg Variations by taking visual cues from the film's optical track. Blacktop is a quintessential Eames product, combining many of their favorite preoccupations—from their ability to see "found objects" in new ways to Ray's interest in abstract art and Charles's determination to educate himself in science and other technical matters.

Back to top

Sections: Biography | Space | Culture | Beauty | Furniture | Science