Charles and Ray Eames spoke only through their work, as I discovered when I went to interview them, March 16, 1977. Talking to their potato chip chair would have been easier and more informative.
Cameras hung like necklaces around their necks. Instead of talking, Ray took my picture -- they took everyone's pictures, though they didn't like to be photographed themselves.
They replied to questions by showing photographs, many, many slides in multiple projectors. With they had something to explain, they made movies -- 80 of them, including the well-known "Powers of Ten" (1968). They communicated with each other with intimate looks and telepathy no one else could translate.
At the Smithsonian Institution Museum of History and Technology (as it was called then) that night, the two designers went through the crowds come to hear and see them. Instead of conversation, Ray offered candy hearts inscribed with sugary sayings.
I am reminded of this by the exhibition on Charles and Ray Eames now playing at the Library of Congress. There are films along with the furniture.
At the time, I was especially interested in talking with them because, instead of collecting stamps as do sensible souls, I collected chairs in four countries and over almost half a century -- most secondhand.
We really wanted the famous 1956 Eames lounge chair and ottoman of laminated rosewood cushioned in leather, but the price was in too many figures for us to afford. Now, years later that I find the cushions were stuffed with feathers, to which we are allergic, I no longer feel so deprived.
We settled for the 1946 Eames plywood (of varying woods) chair, better known as the potato chip chair. We bought it, in Stuttgart, Germany. I believe new, though I no longer remember how much. Its metal legs are bonded to the wooden shell with a rubber welded joint. An oft-told legend says the Eameses experimented using a stationary exercise bicycle for pressure on plywood heated on their apartment stove. Legend has it that the stove exploded.
The chair was touted as being suitable for the dining room. Because we could afford only one Eames, instead we use Thonet bentwood chairs, bought in Vienna for a dollar at shops that collected the chairs -- 4 million were manufactured -- abandoned on the sidewalk for the city junkmen's biannual collection.
For some years, I used the Eames chair at my Olivetti typewriter. However, the chair's lack of cushioning discouraged ever finishing one's novel -- as good an excuse as any.
The chair was temporarily (so we said) put in the basement apartment. Unfortunately a male visitor broke the bond of metal to plywood back. One of these days when my husband finishes his next novel, he'll fix it.
Have a seat and I'll tell you more.
"The World of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention" runs through Sept. 4 at the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free. 202-707-4604.