inside charles and ray eames' whimsical toy collection at the institute's latest exhibition

inside charles and ray eames' whimsical toy collection at the institute's latest exhibition

Toys & Play by The Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity 

 

The latest exhibition at the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity, titled Toys & Play, celebrates the joyful exploration of games that have impacted the imaginative minds of Charles and Ray Eames. By inviting viewers into a realm of whimsy and innovation, this exhibition offers a distinct peek into how toys influenced the design process of these iconic figures. For them, play wasn’t simply about enjoyment; rather, it provided a unique perspective for navigating life. Toys & Play provides a glimpse into the collection of the Eameses, featuring items like spinning tops, tricycles, kites, and a barrel organ. These objects, unlike typical mass-market products, were valued for their simplicity and lack of pretension, representing what the Eameses regarded as ‘good design.’ Llisa Demetrios, the chief curator of the Institute and the youngest granddaughter of Ray and Charles Eames, reflects on the significance of toys beyond amusement.‘Toys were empowering tools of ‘found learning.’ Having fun and learning without realizing you were—that was the best game growing up.’

peek inside charles and ray eames' whimsical toy collection
all images by Noah Webb and Set Design by Cecilia Elguero for the Eames Institute, unless stated otherwise

 

 

toys as tools for exploration

 

Charles Eames’s well-known statement, ‘Toys are really not as innocent as they look. Toys and games are the preludes to serious ideas,’ encapsulates the mindset that guided the Eameses’ creative process. Over their lifetime, Ray and Charles gathered a large assortment of toys, viewing them not just for entertainment but also as subjects for examination. These objects were methodically cataloged and stored within the Eames Office at 901 Washington Boulevard, kept for use in films, showrooms, and as pleasant distractions within their workspace. ‘For Ray and Charles, playing was a portal to serious ideas,’ Demetrios continues. These toys weren’t just for enjoyment; they were tools for exploring concepts ‘like understanding an unseen force becoming visible, as I witnessed when I dropped a marble down the musical tower and listened to the notes play.’

peek inside charles and ray eames' whimsical toy collection
the collection includes spinning tops, a circus mirror, tricycles, kites, and a barrel organ, among others

 

 

Play, as understood by the Eameses, involved engaging in activities solely for their intrinsic value. It wasn’t about immediate gains but about nurturing curiosity, fostering connections, and embracing the learning that emerged from experimentation and experience. While the Eameses’ designs often carried a playful essence, their concept of play extended beyond whimsy; it was a strategic approach to creatively tackle problems from unconventional angles. The Toys & Play exhibition’s opening coincides with the release of a limited edition catalog by The Eames Institute (see more here). This catalog offers deeper insights into how these toys influenced the Eameses’ creative process, featuring detailed documentation, archival photographs, artwork, and an illuminating essay by Sam Grawe.

inside charles and ray eames' whimsical toy collection at the eames institute
embodying innovation and joy peek inside charles and ray eames' whimsical toy collection for the duo, toys are tools for examination

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playthings that sparked creativity

inside charles and ray eames' whimsical toy collection at the institute's latest exhibition
The Czech horse heads add an element of surreality to an impromptu performance by Ray Eames and Arts & Architecture editor John Entenza in 1945. © Eames Office, LLC

charles-ray-eames-whimsical-toy-collection-institute-designboom-18002
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Goldfish Kite This kite, which transforms paper, ink, string, and bamboo into a whimsical oversized fish, is one of the many kites that hung on the walls of the Eameses’ home and studio over the years, and which also appeared in their Herman Miller showroom stagings, promotional photographs, and advertising. Eames Institute.
Goldfish Kite This kite, which transforms paper, ink, string, and bamboo into a whimsical oversized fish, is one of the many kites that hung on the walls of the Eameses’ home and studio over the years, and which also appeared in their Herman Miller showroom stagings, promotional photographs, and advertising. Eames Institute.
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started in 1966, but not completed until 1969, the film Tops offers a visual celebration of the ubiquitous spinning toys. Here Charles and staff member Alex Funke capture one of the film’s 123 featured tops in motion. © Eames Office, LLC.
started in 1966, but not completed until 1969, the film Tops offers a visual celebration of the ubiquitous spinning toys. Here Charles and staff member Alex Funke capture one of the film’s 123 featured tops in motion. © Eames Office, LLC.
While a deconstructed, gravity-fed vertical xylophone would become a fixture of the Eames Office for decades, here Charles and Ray experiment with a toy version. 1945. © Eames Office, LLC.
While a deconstructed, gravity-fed vertical xylophone would become a fixture of the Eames Office for decades, here Charles and Ray experiment with a toy version. 1945. © Eames Office, LLC.
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Circus Mirror The Eameses loved the circus. Charles once said, 'Everything in the circus is pushing the possible beyond the limit.…Yet, within this apparent freewheeling license we find a discipline which is almost unbelievable.…The Layout of the circus under canvas is more like a plan of the Acropolis than anything else.' Eames Institute.
Circus Mirror The Eameses loved the circus. Charles once said, 'Everything in the circus is pushing the possible beyond the limit.…Yet, within this apparent freewheeling license we find a discipline which is almost unbelievable.…The Layout of the circus under canvas is more like a plan of the Acropolis than anything else.' Eames Institute.
Kettler Car / Kettcar, c. 1962 This four-wheel pedal cart was kept at the Eames Office in Venice, California, where it provided entertainment for the Eameses’ grandchildren. Eames Institute.
Kettler Car / Kettcar, c. 1962 This four-wheel pedal cart was kept at the Eames Office in Venice, California, where it provided entertainment for the Eameses’ grandchildren. Eames Institute.
Superball, c. 1964 In 1965 Charles Eames was quoted in a magazine declaring, 'Among the great and elegant design exceptions is a toy produced this year that has swept the country. What is it? A small bouncing ball—Superball.' Eames Institute.
Superball, c. 1964 In 1965 Charles Eames was quoted in a magazine declaring, 'Among the great and elegant design exceptions is a toy produced this year that has swept the country. What is it? A small bouncing ball—Superball.' Eames Institute.
'Grand Duke' Ives Toy Train, c. 1880 This toy train, which is of such a large scale that it was used without tracks and is known in the toy business as a 'floor model,' was a gift to Charles Eames from filmmaker Billy Wilder. Eames Institute.
'Grand Duke' Ives Toy Train, c. 1880 This toy train, which is of such a large scale that it was used without tracks and is known in the toy business as a 'floor model,' was a gift to Charles Eames from filmmaker Billy Wilder. Eames Institute.
Balance Toy This is one of several circus-themed balance toys that the Eameses collected, all of which disguise a lesson in physics in the form of a whimsical miniature toy. The Eameses were firm believers not only in the educational potential of toys, but also in the discoveries that could emerge from toy production. Eames Institute.
Balance Toy This is one of several circus-themed balance toys that the Eameses collected, all of which disguise a lesson in physics in the form of a whimsical miniature toy. The Eameses were firm believers not only in the educational potential of toys, but also in the discoveries that could emerge from toy production. Eames Institute.
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Perhaps in preparation for an intended film about toy boats, Ray captures grandson Eames Demetrios playing with a boat in the backyard pool of the Eameses’ next door neighbors. © Eames Office, LLC.
Perhaps in preparation for an intended film about toy boats, Ray captures grandson Eames Demetrios playing with a boat in the backyard pool of the Eameses’ next door neighbors. © Eames Office, LLC.

project info:

 

name of the exhibition: Toys & Play

presented at: Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity | @eamesinstitute

dates: from 15 November 2023

purchase the Toys & Play Exhibit Catalog here

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