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How a Freewheeling School Changed American Design


Illustrations by Paige Vickers.

Alumni visits don't get much more high profile than Ray Eames's brief return to Cranbrook Academy of Art in May 1980. Half of the dynamic design couple whose grab-bag of inventive projects became synonymous with post-war Modernism, Ray, who had been widowed a little less than two years prior, was then living by herself in the trailblazing Case Study house she built with her late husband Charles. Known for its pioneering layout and polychromatic interior, the home, decorated with the vast quantity of objects, artwork, and collectables accrued by the couple over nearly four decades together, must have been a potent source of memories. But Ray's trip to speak at the Michigan arts school where she met her husband in 1940 proved a similar catalyst for nostalgia. A Detroit Free Press article from that summer says she was "smiling continuously." During a discourse that covered all manner of design topics, she often "wandered into memories."

The golden age of Cranbrook >>