the Eames workshop
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Image of India Taken by the Eameses. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Charles and Ray Eames's careers in the 1950s mirrored America's postwar shift from an industrial economy of goods to a post-industrial society of information. Rather than furnishings and buildings, the Eames Office focused its efforts on communication systems—exhibitions, publications, and films. The Eameses produced these media for governments at home and abroad, for industry, and for the education and pleasure of their friends and colleagues. In these endeavors the Eameses used imagery of daily rituals and entertainments, vernacular landscapes, and ordinary objects to promote popular culture as the currency of exchange between nations and people. Their communications projects elevated Charles and Ray Eames to the status of cultural ambassadors overseas and interpreters of the meaning of America at home.

Meet Me in St. Louis was a segment of The Good Years, the collective title of three films made by the Eames Office about important events in early 20th-century American history. The films were broadcast on CBS television.

Film frame from Meet Me in St. Louis, 1962, photograph. ©Lucia Eames dba Eames Office (C-20)

The Eameses' most ambitious attempt to teach one culture about another was their multiscreen film Glimpses of the U.S.A. produced for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow—the first cultural exchange between the two countries since the Bolshevik Revolution. A dazzling portrait of postwar American values—egalitarian and consumerist —Glimpses of the U.S.A. projected 2,200 images on seven 20-by-30-foot screens. Charles later noted that the “multiple projection of images . . . was not simply a trick; it was a method to employ all the viewer's senses. The reinforcement by multiple images made the American Story seem credible.”

The Eames Office developed complex charts to organize thousands of images for the film's seven-screen presentation. Images used in the film were shot by Charles, his family, and associates across the country and culled from photo archives.

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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.”

Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev and American Vice President Richard Nixon debated the relative merits of their nations' political systems in a model American home, located next to the pavilion showing Glimpses of the U.S.A. The debate became a defining moment of the Cold War.

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  • Charles and Ray leaving Los Angeles for Moscow with the Films for the 1959 American National Exhibition, photograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (C-2)

  • Glimpses of the U.S.A., Projected at the American National Exhibition, 1959, photograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (C-3)

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    The Kitchen Debate at the American National Exhibition, Moscow, July 25, 1959, photograph. Courtesy AP/Worldwide photos (C-9)

No country offered the Eameses greater opportunities for cross-cultural explorations than India. The Eameses' “India Report” (1958), commissioned by the Indian government to guide the country into the future, contained recommendations for industrializing and making mass-produced goods without losing the qualities of the country's traditional handicrafts. Among the Eameses' recommendations was the establishment of a government-supported design institute which would foster India's cultural development as the country underwent revolutionary changes and would help small industries produce consumer goods. As a result of the Eameses' report, the National Institute of Design was established in 1961 in Ahmedabad, the first institution for industrial design, education, and training in the developing world.

Director of Information in the Office of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, Prasad asked for Charles's advice about a National Institute of Design crisis on behalf of Ghandi. Her main concern was “that an institute which has been built with such hopes should not be allowed to fail.”

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