Charles and Ray Eames contributed to American art, architecture, and design in ways that weren’t only relevant to the world of the arts: they gave us a huge percentage of our current seating choices, and helped usher in a new era of American industrial design.
The Eameses also made toys, films, designed entire houses, and contributed to the professional development of many upcoming artists of the era. They don’t have a permanent space that’s completely dedicated to them, unlike other noted artisans of the mid-century modern era, and that’s what this post is all about: why isn’t there a Charles and Ray Eames Museum?
We recently saw this article from Sactown magazine, a short opinion piece studying the idea of getting a museum dedicated to the couple in Sacramento. Ray was native to the area, and the state of California served as the couple’s home form the day they married until their deaths.
The case for a Charles and Ray Eames Museum
Rob Turner, the author’s article (and a proud Sacramento native), argues that it’s amazing that the couple doesn’t have a museum of their own, and that building one would improve tourism to the city, and that it would also make it easier for people to pay homage to the couple’s achievements. It’s a fairly good point.
Some people would argue that having exhibitions all over America (instead of at a single location) would be much better for people to enjoy their work, but creating an Eames Museum would not off-state exhibitions from happening.
An Eames museum would just create a distinctive landmark for the masses to visit (apart from their house, which we will talk about in detail below). As the Royal Couple in American mid-century modern design, such a place is long overdue.
The space could include, as Turner adds, their iconic Eames Lounge chair and ottoman, their films, and more importantly their lithographs and photographs. The former’s is Ray’s work and the latter belongs mostly to Charles. Turner also mentions that the mayor of Sacramento is committed to making a “destination city” out of the area, and that building an Eames Museum would greatly help this cause.
They could try and realize one of the couple’s proposed architectural designs and work from there. For long-time fans of the Eameses work, that would be a dream come true.
Why not Missouri as well?
Turner also mentions that Andy Warhol, who left his hometown of Pittsburgh at age 20, currently has a museum there, and given that Ray was born in Sacramento, the choice is obvious. Charles, however, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, so putting a museum in there might also be an option. There could even be two museums, like sister museums, in both places.
Placing a dedicated Eames Museum in Los Angeles, in this regard, would be the best option in my opinion, since that’s where they both lived. The Eames Foundation is right there (which is a great plus), and the museum could be located somewhere in the city center.
Granted that Sacramento would be a little robbed of their opportunity to become the Mecca of all things Eames-related, but there are many other ways in which they could honor their native genius, which is Ray Eames. As we mentioned earlier, she was born in the area and, like Warhol, grew up in the city until she was 19, when she moved to New York to start her professional career.
What about the Eames Foundation and the Eames House?
This question might be popping up in the minds of some of you readers. After all, the Eames Foundation has been the great referential place for anything Eames-related since it opened a few years after both members of the couple passed away.
The foundation currently maintains the Eameses estate in the Palisades: a large mid-century modern home that served as their makeshift workshop for many years. Most people call it the Eames House, and it could very well be the museum we’re looking for here.
The House is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and has also been designated as both a U.S. National Historic Landmark and a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
As an added note, the house is already considered a museum, and does work as a place for exhibition. People are free to go visit the grounds and partake in some interesting tours around the area, but that must be done via prior reservation, and most of the areas in the house are still kept as though it were a private home (which is understandable).
We would consider it a semi-public place, and thus not an ideal museum, but it’s the closest thing we have to one at the moment.
What’s inside the Eames House?
The interiors have been curated and maintained to look the same way as they did in 1988, the year of Ray’s passing. There are a bunch of separate collections including fabrics, books, and furniture. There are also many conservation efforts that are still going on around the house, so the area is being constantly updated.
Apart from the Eames Lounge chair and ottoman, the plywood chairs and other iconic pieces for their golden years, there’s a lot to see that most people haven’t.
The house itself is still at the end of a private driveway, so it takes about five minutes to get there walking since there’s no parking facilities near it. You are not allowed to take pictures of the inside, but there are plenty of them (such as the ones on this post) to give you a more than decent look.
You can take pictures outside for personal use, which means that you can’t publish them anywhere. For $10 you can take an exterior visit and see some of the available collections, but you’ll have to dish out $275 for a full interior visit, and $200 more if you take more than one person with you.
Children 12 and under are not allowed in the House, which is why the idea of a public museum seems a little bit more logical and necessary. We do believe that everyone should be able to enjoy the Eameses work, even though we totally understand the reasoning behind this policy.
Conservation efforts are not over yet, and opening to all audiences could stifle some important projects. Aside from that, we can understand wanting to avoid accidents inside the house, especially when it’s filled with various sculptures, the aforementioned Eames Lounge chair and ottoman, and other delicate items.
With this in mind, we’d like to end this article on a good note. Given the prices, we’d still say that paying a visit to the Eames House is totally worth it, in every way. We hope that we get an actual Eames Museum not too many years away from now, and we’ll be more than glad to see it whether it opens in Sacramento, St. Louis, or Los Angeles. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Eameses are still with us.