America the Beautiful
With “Images of Early America,” the Eames Office created a concise visual inventory of our country’s origins.
Written by: Amber Bravo
Artwork by: The Office of Charles and Ray Eames
To celebrate the Nation’s bicentennial in 1976, Charles and Ray Eames produced a small exhibition at Herman Miller’s Los Angeles showroom titled Images of Early America. In conjunction, a slim 47-page catalogue was produced for Herman Miller as a gift. More a visual than an expository effort, the book frames simple exterior and interior images of the 18th and 19th century landscape throughout the 13 original colonies and captions them plainly.
Photographed by Charles and Eames Office staff members Bill Tondreau and Alex Funke, the images in Early America were culled from a much larger project that consumed the Eames Office toward the end of Charles’ life: The World of Franklin and Jefferson. Produced for the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, this project, which encompassed a traveling exhibition, film, and book, was undoubtedly the most exhaustive and complex effort ever undertaken by the office. Assembled from a deeply researched and diverse trove of texts, artifacts, art, imagery, and photography, the effort represented a culmination of the Eames approach to multimedia design and communication.
While the exhibition tended to overwhelm visitors on its two-year tour through galleries in the United States and abroad, Images of Early America stands out for its relative simplicity. The unpretentious documentary style not only proves the Eames’ ability to tease the extraordinary out of the ordinary but also to deftly produce a visual artifact befitting the subject at hand: what better reflection of early American values than images of the land, architecture, and artifacts it cultivated. More than anything, though, Images of Early America perfectly encapsulates that unmistakable Eames iterative design process—whether it’s a table or a treatise—the end of one project is simply fodder for the next.
“...what better reflection of early American values than images of the land, architecture, and artifacts it cultivated.”