A piece of paper can be a window. This letter constructed by Ray Eames to Alexander Girard is a portal into the creative spirit of the Eames Office at its height. The letter, actually a thank you note, expresses time and care and patience nearly impossible to imagine today. Its construction is like its author, bright and obsessively detailed. The letter and envelope were lovingly framed by Alexander Girard and kept the remainder of his life, only being sold after his passing.
As the Eameses famously professed, “everything connects”. Charles often spoke about care and attention to detail as one of the core tenants of design. Many photographs bear witness to the repetition, effort and thought surrounding all elements of a design.
The letter serves as yet another working through of a design. At this time, they are developing and refining the materiality, the very nuts and bolts, that would define their famous home. The concept of the house grows in tandem with the Eames Storage Unit (ESU) line of furniture. The pre-fabrication concerns are wedded with a joyous celebration of the industrial — Masonite panels painted in brilliant primary colors, the bold graphic quality of the X-stretcher, the use of perforation and plywood and exposed details — the rudimentary elements of the thing. This would come to magnificent expression in the Eames Case Study House, built in 1949.
The letter is a collage of rectangles in bright colored paper, reflective wrap, a photo element and a bit of screening tumbling across two pages with neatly linear lines of text. Nearly all the elements of the ESUs are represented with the color, the bold Xs, and the textured metal. The collage continues to the envelope, postmarked the last day of August, 1948. Air mail delivery was seven cents. The back was sealed with a miniature reflective heart — Ray’s signature of sort. A cut-out heart poetically appears on the back of their first jointly designed piece of production furniture, the famous child’s chair of 1945.
All of this gets a frame of worm-holed salvaged wood, seemingly handmade by Girard judging from the crudeness of the construction and hung in a place of pride in his office.
This letter was first consigned to me in 2005. I included this as part of an Alexander Girard installation I produced at the New York Modernism show. I sold the letter to a local couple and now after these many years, the letter has come back. A letter is an ephemeral object — a gift given to the recipient. This letter continues to give, encapsulating the time and place of its making, radiating its history and joy to this day.