Lucia Eames (1930-2014)

Vía Eames Office.

Lucia Eames, designer, mother and beloved only child of American architect and designer Charles Eames, and beloved only step-daughter of designer and painter Ray Eames, died April 1, 2014. She was 83.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 11, 1930, to Charles and his first wife, Catherine Woermann, Lucia was an artist, graphic designer, owner of the Eames Office, founder of the Eames Foundation, and mother of five.

Her early years were spent in St. Louis and on the grounds of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where her father at first studied architecture and then became head of the Industrial Design department. Lucia recalled those times fondly, including her attendance at Kingswood School for Girls on the Cranbrook Campus. Following his divorce from Catherine, her father married Ray Kaiser, who became Lucia’s stepmother, with whom she was exceptionally close.

Lucia finished her secondary school education at Mary Institute in St. Louis and attended Vassar College for two years, and graduated from Radcliffe College in 1952. There Walter Gropius was her professor, at a time when women were, as Lucia recalled, “dissuaded from studying architecture at Harvard.” In her adult years, Lucia lived in Massachusetts but eventually settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, always maintaining strong ties to St. Louis, her mother Catherine, and friends and family there.

An early sculpture, created when she was just 12 years old, was published in the legendary Arts & Architecture magazine. Throughout her life, she worked in many different media to create photographs, writings, beautiful and complex works woven with found objects, and large-scale commissions. She may be best known for her exquisite graphical metal works rendered in cut steel and bronze, which added an extra richness of beauty, power and physicality. Her works, which were shown at ArtPrize (Grand Rapids, MI) and the Landscape Garden Show (San Francisco, CA), can still be seen in the living room of the Eames House (Pacific Palisades, CA), Ma(i)sonry (Yountville, CA) and other collections both public and private. One of her best-known designs was the simple, elegant metal form Seeing with the Heart.

Lucia lived in Petaluma, California, in a residential structure by architect William Turnbull, whose space she transformed into an experience of extraordinary visual richness. It was also where, in her later years, she lived and worked with her daughter, Llisa, in the firm of Demetrios & Eames.

She was active with many local groups including the writing group Parachutists, Architecture & Design Forum (SFMOMA), Another Mother for Peace, the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, the Randall Museum and the International Interior Design Association.

On Ray’s death in 1988, Lucia became responsible for the design legacy of Charles and Ray Eames. With her deep understanding of the Eames philosophy learned from countless conversations with Charles and Ray, Lucia was asked by Ray to take responsibility for the Eames legacy in general, and the authenticity of Eames designs in particular.

As the owner of the Eames Office for 26 years, it was important to her that the Eames Office continues for generations after her death. For this reason, she ensured that the next generation assumed operational responsibility in the early 1990s.

In 1988, Lucia fulfilled Charles and Ray’s vision of gifting an important collection of the Eames Archives materials to the Library of Congress. In 2004, she established the Eames Foundation, which oversees the Eames House in Pacific Palisades, California, where she often stayed. Indeed, she vividly remembered picnicking in the meadow before the house was even built and witnessing the pivotal decision to dramatically change the design to its current form. The Eames House, considered by many to be the most important work of residential architecture from the latter half of the 20th century, is a National Historic Landmark. Lucia enjoyed sharing her many memories and experiences of Charles and Ray with visitors at the Eames home and studio.

In her remarkable life, Lucia met many of the most iconic cultural figures of her time: Humphrey Bogart, Billy Wilder, Buckminster Fuller, Eero Saarinen, Eliel Saarinen, Carl Milles, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, George Nelson, Alexander Girard, Elmer Bernstein, Haku Shah, Isamu Kenmochi, John Entenza, Philip & Phylis Morrison, Josef & Anni Albers, and Corita Kent among them. She also knew generations of Eames collaborators such as the DePree family at Herman Miller and the Fehlbaum family at Vitra, manufacturing partnerships that continued enthusiastically during her reign.

Remembering her teen years in Los Angeles, Lucia recalled, “The pleasures of work were ongoing and continual as were those of play. Charles and Ray provided a rich environment for me that included courses at UCLA and work in the darkroom at 901; various projects included assembling photos and/or mounting same, building plywood sculptures, and pasting up or cutting out designs specific and otherwise.”

Such experiences informed her approach to the Eames work in her later years. Indeed, Lucia leaves a legacy of successful stewardship of one of the most significant design legacies of the modern era. Charles and Ray Eames, recognized as the most influential designers of the twentieth century, are best known for their furniture designs, which, in no small part due to Lucia, are still manufactured to the Eames standards today by Herman Miller in the U.S. and much of the world, and by Vitra in Europe and the Middle East.

Lucia will be remembered for her gracious hospitality, elegance, commitment to her parents’ works as well as for the deep, personal beauty of her art.

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