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American Masters: Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect And The Painter

Airs Friday, October 12, 2012 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Charles and Ray Eames “pinned” by chair bases, 1947.

Credit: Courtesy of ©2011 Eames Office, LLC

Above: Charles and Ray Eames “pinned” by chair bases, 1947.

From 1941 to 1978, the husband-and-wife team of Ray and Charles Eames brought unique talents to their partnership. He was an architect by training; she was a painter and sculptor. Together, they are considered America’s most important and influential designers, whose work helped shape, literally, the second half of the 20th century and remains culturally vital and commercially popular today.

The Eames are, perhaps, best remembered for their mid-century modern furniture, built from novel materials like molded plywood, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, bent metal wire and aluminum — offering consumers beautiful, functional, yet inexpensive products.

Revered for their designs and fascinating as individuals, the Eames have risen to iconic status in American culture, but their influence on significant events and movements in American life — from the development of modernism to the rise of the computer age — has been less widely understood.

"The Architect And The Painter" crafts a fascinating, complex blueprint of two great American artists and provides a candid view of their emotional lives as they apply their genius to practical problems and innovation. The film draws extensively from a virgin cache of archival material, visually stunning films, love letters, photographs, and artifacts produced in mind-boggling volume during the hyper-creative epoch of the Eames Office.

Critics may argue about how to delineate Charles and Ray’s respective roles in their prodigious design output, but AMERICAN MASTERS reveals how they and the Eames Office designers actually dealt with questions of authorship and control.

Interviews with Charles’s daughter Lucia, his grandson Eames Demetrios, Eames Office designers, director/screenwriter Paul Schrader, TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, noted architect Kevin Roche, design historians, and others guide viewers on an intimate voyage through the “Eames Era,” shining a light on the genuine legacy of their design – that which elevated aesthetic refinement and functionality to a higher plane.

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Preview: Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect And The Painter

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AMERICAN MASTERS presents the first film made about America’s most important and influential designers, Charles and Ray Eames, since their deaths in 1978 and 1988, respectively — and the only film that explores the link between their artistic collaboration and sometimes tortured marriage. Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey’s definitive documentary delves into the private world the Eameses created in their Renaissance-style, Venice Beach, California studio, where design history was born.

The Architect And The Painter: Outtake: Having Fun

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In archival footage from “An Eames Celebration,” a film for WNET created in 1973, Ray Eames struggles to describe any activities that give her more joy than success in their projects and works.

The Architect And The Painter: Outtakes: Pilgrimage

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Watch Eames Outtakes: Pilgrimage on PBS. See more from AMERICAN MASTERS.

Eames Demetrios, grandson of Ray and Charles, and Richard Saul Wurman of TED Talk about how the Eames House has lured people from all over the world and become a kind of pilgrimage site for modernists.


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