As the 100th birthday of Ray Eames approaches, we continue to honor the life of the artist and innovator — this time through an interview with her niece, Midge Kaiser Martin, the daughter of Ray’s older brother, Maurice Kaiser. With warmth and fondness, Midge recounts a few personal memories of a relationship with an aunt who was inspiring, talented, loving, and, in Midge’s words, “magical.”
My father had a stern exterior, but his baby sister Ray could melt him in seconds flat. She adored her brother. He was a career military man, so our family would be stationed in different places as I was growing up. Ray would visit us — like a fairy godmother, she’d pop up in places with off-the-wall presents and smiles. I’ll never forget when my father was stationed at Norway. Ray came in on one of the first SAS [Scandinavian Airlines] over-the-Pole flights. And when she arrived she said, almost with some surprise, “I expected to look down and see the candy-striped pole on the North Pole!” Of course she did! She just said it in that “Ray way” that made it magic. She was full of magical moments like that.
My aunt was such an artist; everything she did, she did perfectly. When we stayed at the house, we’d have breakfasts that were almost too pretty to eat. Every dish, every place mat, every napkin, the flowers on the table and on the sideboard, a bowl of fruit… everything had to be not only beautiful to taste, but beautiful to see. And the breakfast table was a work of art in itself — the way she arranged it differently every day, using different plates, different flowers, and different cups. All with love. You’d feel enveloped with love in her house.
Ray had an enormous spirit of fun. Work and fun were the things she had in common with Charles — they were the same thing to them. They embodied the philosophy of doing what you love and loving what you do. They loved their toys, and they loved the fanciful. (Where else could you get the Hang-It-All?) And Ray was intensely curious. When I was in seventh and eighth grade and my father was stationed in California, I was in a state band and individual instrumental competition. I played the clarinet and had a solo. Afterward, my friend Margaret Ann, who had accompanied me on the piano and who also played glockenspiel, came out with us to Ray and Charles’ house. Ray was so fascinated by someone who played the glockenspiel. (“Oh! Glockenspiel!” she’d say.) And she would go on and on asking Margaret about what it was like — questions about where it came from and how she got started in it. She had such a childlike curiosity about everything.
Ray, in her way, was a different kind of Renaissance woman — so much a woman, and yet, operating in a man’s world in an enormously successful way. She was very demanding in what she wanted and how the vision should be presented. She made no bones about it. So, in her, you had this combination of a brilliant, detail-oriented artist with a wonderful, fanciful, and intense curiosity about everything in the world — every piece of it. She had a way of educating you and learning at the same time. I still miss her effervescence and the extreme attention, love, and care she showed when she was with you. What I miss most is her joyous presence… and sharing it. I miss her.
Beginning February 23, 2013, the California Museum in Sacramento will present “Ray Eames: A Century of Modern Design,” an exhibit revealing “a new perspective on Ray’s 60-year career in the arts, along with her influence on American culture and significance in history as one of the 20th century’s most influential artists.” Find details at californiamuseum.org.