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Eames Institute gets a permanent space to showcase its elaborate archival collection
The Eames Archives in Richmond, California
Image: Nicholas Calcott

Eames Institute gets a permanent space to showcase its elaborate archival collection

The Eames Archives' new Bay area headquarters is a 9000 sqft facility to display thousands of products and rare objects owned and loved by the Eames family.

by Zohra Khan
Published on : Feb 12, 2024

The legacy of American designers Charles and Ray Eames garners a perennial fandom. The trailblazing pair who started with designing plywood leg splints eventually moved to doing domestic furniture and residential architecture. The Eames Institute has been carrying forward the legacy of the Eameses through public installation, a digital presence, and printed publications. So far, the digital arm of the institute – the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity – was responsible for taking people through the stories of thousands of artefacts and lessons around design and life, via curated showcases and virtual exhibitions. Now a permanent space by the Eames Institute is providing an immersive first-hand tour of the collection and an intimate peek into the duo’s personal journeys. Located in Richmond, California, the 9000 sqft space is home to 40,000 artefacts, including prototypes, products, tools, rare written ephemera, and personal items, owned and loved by the Eameses.

Launched in March 2022, the non-profit Eames Institute aims to inspire contemporary audiences to engage in the practice of design by imparting the legacy of Ray and Charles. Nine exhibitions have so far been presented online, which includes an intimate peek into the duo’s love for postcards Return to Sender, works shaped from their friendship with American illustrator Saul Steinberg Steinberg meets the Eameses, and a display of toy collectables from the archival collection Toys and Play.

The newly refurbished space by the Eames Archive constitutes a gallery, collections centre, and archives study centre. The space put together by Brooklyn-based studio, Standard Issue, combined a warehouse and an exhibition space, infusing the spatial scheme with ‘moments of discovery and play while ensuring it can continue to function as a working collection.’ In addition to the curated walks through the displays, the space also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the everyday activities of the complex. Key design features here, as per Standard Issue, include a custom display table that pulls inspiration from Ray’s iconic freeform drawings, custom mounts for 2D and 3D material, and a site-specific curtain to define the ‘chair tasting space’.

Llisa Demetrios, granddaughter of Ray and Charles Eames and the chief curator of the Eames Institute calls this intervention “an absolute joy to finally be able to share these pieces in this way.” She adds, “It’s such a pleasure to expand the reach of the Eames Institute and further share the Collection with even more people. The Eames Archives is so special to me because it holds the things my grandparents loved and cherished.”

Notable pieces from the display range from prototype aeroplane parts in moulded and laminated plywood for the US Navy (Airplane Stabiliser, 1943), a handmade prototype seat that used an inflatable rubber pouch to mould plywood (Moulded Plywood Seat, 1942), to a fake design diploma for Charles by Saul Steinberg (Steinberg Diploma for Charles Eames, 1950). The elaborate display consolidates much of the institute’s collections – the majority of which originates from the Eames office at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, California.

Reservations to the public for guided tours led by Demetrios opened on February 01, 2024. Tours will begin from February 14 onwards, and after each walk, visitors can indulge in a selection of souvenirs such as books, vintage items, and design objects inspired by the Eames collection. These would be available for purchase from the facility’s retail shop.

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