Lucia Eames, the only child of Charles Eames and his first wife, Catherine Woermann, died on April 1. An artist and designer herself, after Ray Eames’s death in 1988 Lucia Eames took on the not inconsiderable task of preserving the Eames legacy, setting up a foundation to take care of the Eames House and donating her father and stepmother’s papers to the Library of Congress. In 2005, she spoke to Metropolis Magazine about that legacy, and the elements of the Eames design that continue to be active in culture today.
I never met Lucia Eames, but I always think of her as she appeared in the 1976 short film “The Chase,” a demonstration piece for the Polavision Instant Home Movie System. (You can see a clip of it here; it’s also in Vol. 2 of the complete Eames films.) Of course an Eames home movie would have more style than anyone else’s. In the film, Lucia, looking like the Radcliffe graduate she was with glasses, long straight hair, and a denim skirt, is quietly reading on a blanket. The camera pans to a red leather diary, moments before a little boy with a blond bowl cut snatches it and runs away. She gives chase, following him into the Eames House, up the spiral staircase, out the upper story window, and up the Pacific Palisades bluff into which the house is set. In an instant you understand the section of the house, its tight spaces and two levels, its simple frame and idiosyncratic moments. Lucia and the boy are playing with the house and its site, revealing it though motion. One imagines Lucia’s children must often have been called upon to play, whether with toys, furniture, or Hang-It-Alls. She could, and did explain the point of her parents’ work through the simple step of living with it.
“The Chase” also harkens toward the Eameses’ far more famous “Powers of Ten,” which also starts with a book and a blanket in the sun. There, the camera moves rather than the figures. They remain motionless, resting after their picnic on the Chicago lakeshore, while the camera moves out, then in, by powers of ten. But I think there is a parallel idea of exploration happening. How do we explain architecture, how do we explain numbers, to a wide audience and through individual experience? Can we just run through it? I love the way Lucia runs hard, and gracefully, in that denim skirt. She looks like a good sport. In the Metropolis interview, she told Paul Makovsky,
There was a wonderful freedom in growing up and knowing that a price tag did not establish the value of something. The price tag might mean you could only visit it in a museum or only enjoy it someplace else, but the same care was taken whether Ray and Charles sent someone a beautiful papier-mâché mask or Steuben glass. In either case they cherished each wrapping.
“The Chase” shows that freedom about the house, a freedom that is translated into the branching ways the Eames legacy will come down to future generations of designers. Lucia Eames was the first generation to learn from them; thanks to her she will not be the last.