Late in 2010 I advocated that the Museum accept a Ray and Charles Eames DCW (“Dining Chair Wood”) into the Permanent Collection.
No big surprise there, as this bent plywood chair is the iconic work of two of the most influential 20th-century furniture designers. It is a must-have for any design collection!
However, this chair wasn’t the Museum’s first Eames object. The Collection already included one DCW chair (pictured at left), a 1946 folding plywood screen, and several examples of the World War II U.S. Navy leg splint that bolstered Ray and Charles’ experiments in complex two-way bent molded plywood.
So why an additional example of the DCW? And, why this one?
Well, to tell the truth, I put in to motion the Museum’s acceptance of the DCW based on a hunch…and I just might be wrong.
This additional version of the DCW (pictured at right) came to us from a situation where we had no information from its owner about details of its past or how it was acquired. There was little documentation, and we had to act quickly. I saw that the chair had a maker’s label on the bottom, which is encouraging. I also saw that this particular chair, as you might be able to make out in the photo, showed remnants of a red stained or painted surface.
This red stain was either a very good sign (original!) or a very bad sign (someone later added it).
But, my brain linked together “red” and “Eames” with the word “rare,” so I felt good about this chair’s place in our permanent collection.
I’ve since confirmed that the DCW (and its sister the DCM-“Dining Chair Metal”), when first manufactured by the Evans Products Company (Venice, California) from 1946 to 1949, were available with a red aniline dyed plywood, like this example in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. These original red examples are indeed very rare. However–and here we return to the part where I might be wrong–I’m still not completely sure that I have one here.
When you look at the bottom of this DCW (see below) you’ll see that there is a harsh red paint applied later around the affixed label. I think it was applied later because to my eyes, the paint is slightly layering over the label itself. On the other hand, the rest of the surface appears to be more “stained” but very faded. When and why was this red paint added around the label? Or was there once paint all over the chair that was later removed, excepting around the label? Is this an original red aniline dyed example… or not?
I have a lot of questions that I can’t answer about this:
When it comes time to exhibit or write further about this chair, I’ll call in the expertise of our conservation staff to see what we can learn from a materials standpoint. In the meantime, I’ll concentrate on the label itself.
For more information on situating that particular label and the information it contains, I turned to a trusted source on all things Ray and Charles Eames: the “Eames Office.” Using their thorough website, I could compare the Museum’s newly-acquired chair with their original 1948 LCW on the Eames online furniture raisonne, without even leaving my desk. I could confirm that the Museum’s chair has the “transitional label” just like the one on the bottom of the 1948 LCW in the Eames collection chair.
This type of label, mentioning both companies, means it was manufactured by the first mass-producer of the design, the Evans Products Company in California. But, this particular label also tells us it was made late in that period, during the transitional period when the chairs were distributed by Herman Miller out of Michigan. This dates the chair to almost exactly 1948. After 1949, Herman Miller Company was the sole producer and distributor.
As another comparison, I’m showing at left the underside of the other DCW (pictured at the top of this post) in the Museum’s collection. It has none of the red stain issues (or possibilities!), but its label is not in great condition. If you look closely, it is the exact same “transitional label” as on the newest DCW in the collection.
Also visible in this photograph is the 5-2-5 arrangement of screws often used to help distinguish between eras of Eames chair manufacture. I’ve learned that if you see the screws arranged like this with 5 attaching the front legs, 2 securing the seat at middle, and then another 5 at the rear holding on the rear legs, you have found a chair produced at the Evans Products Co (1946-1949). After Herman Miller produced the chair for about a year or so, the bolt configuration changed to 5-2-4.
This post, like much other research, is a work in progress. If you have additional clues about the red aniline dye on this chair, please let me know through the comments section.
Mel Buchanan was the Assistant Curator of 20th-century Design. Mel’s curatorial responsibility included interpreting, displaying, and building the Museum’s collection of craft, design, and decorative objects.