Toys Designed by Charles and Ray Eames Get a Child-Friendly Exhibit at Vitra Design Museum

Charles Eames playing with the House of Cards, Pattern Deck, 1952. Photography courtesy of Eames Office.

There’s no work without play, especially when it comes to design. Best known for their iconic furniture pieces, Charles and Ray Eames have influenced countless architects, designers, and artists. They had a serious impact, but their approach was always playful. They believed that toys were a precursor to great ideas, and their work included objects that inspired whimsy in both adults and children.

Publicity photograph of The Toy in the airplane configuration. Photography courtesy of Eames Office.

Vitra Design Museum is now taking a closer look at Eames-designed toys in an exhibition, “Play Parade,” up until February 2018 in Weil am Rhein, Germany. While historic artifacts are protected, visitors are invited to interact directly with replicas. The first exhibit at the museum conceived especially for children and families, it nonetheless offers a chance for adults to appreciate the playful perspective of the couple.

Charles and Ray Eames, Prototypes for Toy Masks, 1950. Photography courtesy of Eames Office.

The first mass-produced toys by the Eameses were colorful animal masks that began as props used in theatrical skits. Here, children can play in a mock circus ring while wearing versions of the masks. Museum-goers can also play with the House of Cards, a toy still in production, that allows for the creation of simple architectural forms. As well as toys by the couple, also on display are their personal collections of masks, tops, and kites.

Charles and Ray Eames, Cut-paper collage for a kite design, 1950. Photography courtesy of Eames Office.

A cut-paper collage for a kite design, first published in 1950, encapsulates the couple’s respect for playthings. A kite, they believed, could be judged simply on whether it would fly. “I wish more problems could be so beautifully defined,” Charles Eames said. The exhibition is timed to coincide with his 110th birthday and is part of a group of shows known as “An Eames Celebration.” Other shows, all opening September 30th, are a large retrospective originally shown at the Barbican Centre in London, a look specifically on their films, and an exhibition that examines furniture prototypes and models. Together, the four exhibitions form the largest museum exploration of their work to date.

“Play Parade” is on view at the Vitra Design Museum until February 11, 2018.

Charles and Ray Eames, Solar Do-Nothing Machine, 1957. Photography courtesy of Eames Office.
Ray Eames with an early prototype of The Toy in the patio of the Eames House, 1950. Photography courtesy of Eames Office.

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