Ray Eames was born in Sacramento, California on December 15th 1912. Her birth name was Bernice Alexandra Kaiser, but she was commonly called Ray-Ray at home, and later just Ray. This was the name she then used throughout her life. She had a warm and loving upbringing from a well-to-do family. Her father was involved in the theatre from a young age and took over the management of the Grand Theatre in Sacramento. From the age of 3 Ray showed a natural ability for art and at the age of 5 she began taking ballet lessons. She also developed an interest for film and was quickly becoming an artist in her own right.
When she joined Sacramento High School she excelled in art and joined the schools art club. Upon graduating in 1931 she applied for several east coast schools and she was accepted at the May Friend Bennett School in Millbrook, New York. Upon graduating Ray moved to Manhattan and enrolled in the Art Students League, which is where famous German artist Hans Hofmann was a teacher. Hofmann decided to open his own school and Ray and various other members of the Art Students League followed him.
Meeting, working, and being taught by Hofmann was a pivotal time in Ray’s artistic career. In 1936 she became the founder of the AAA group (American Abstract Artists), where she fought hard to have abstract modernists’ work shown in galleries and museums. The first AAA show was held in Manhattan Municipal Galleries and Ray Kaiser’s paintings were exhibited along with many others including Lee Krasner and Fernand Leger.
During the 1930’s and 40’s abstract art met huge critical resistance - the reason for the founding of the AAA. After years of protesting and holding exhibitions, people started to appreciate abstract art and it started becoming more popular in the United States. American Abstract Artists is one of the few artists’ organisations to survive from the Great Depression and continue into the 21st century.
In 1939 Ray made the decision to move to Florida as her mother had fallen ill. Her health was slowly deteriorating and in 1940 she passed away. After her mother’s death, Ray was unsure what to do. Her friends advised her to apply for Cranbrook Acadamy of Art, and so this is what she did.
She got accepted soon after and began attending classes. Little did Ray know that her decision to apply to Cranbrook would completely change her life, and she would become half of the USA’s most dynamic post-war design team.
For the rest of the story, read our other articles on both Charles and the Eamses time as a married couple: