Cirque Du Eames

Why the circus for our Members Appreciation Day theme? The circus fascinated Charles and Ray.

“In the actions of circus people waiting to rehearse or preparing to perform, there is a quality of beauty which comes from appropriateness to a given situation… The concept of ‘appropriateness,’ this ‘how-it-should-be-ness,’ has equal value in the circus, in the making of a work of a work of art, and in science.” – Charles Eames.

This concept drove all of the Eameses’ projects. As Ray explained: “ ‘Appropriate’ is Charles’ word, which I love. If it’s ‘appropriate,’ it works. If you say ‘best,’ it might mean the most expensive, or fine, or something, but if it’s ‘appropriate,’ it works for the job.”

As a child, Ray loved going to the circus with her father. In 1938, a few years before meeting Charles, Ray visited the Ringling Bros. Circus in New York and sketched acts. Together in Los Angeles in 1948, Charles photographed the circus. Their pleasure infuses their work.

In 1971, Charles filmed Clown Face, a training film for Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus’ Clown College on the very serious art of applying clown makeup. In October of 1974, Charles wrote about the circus for the Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Their continued interest in the circus was driven by their appreciation of its rigor, and how analogous it was to their working (and living) lives.

“Everything in the circus is pushing the possible beyond the limit… Yet, within this apparent freewheeling license, we find a discipline which is almost unbelievable…”     – Charles Eames

“…the circus as an example of taking pleasure seriously in one’s everyday work. For the circus and for architecture, this is a professional necessity; many of the rigors of the discipline come from consideration, anticipation, and how things will affect people… There’s nothing frivolous about a high-flier’s pleasure in his work (or an architect’s appetite for a space to be just so).” – Charles Eames

“Many painters and sculptors work as tradesmen and do great work as tradesmen. Many of them work as entertainers, in a sense, and some of the best even work as clowns. Someone might say, ‘Painters and sculptors as clowns?’ But clowns are great things… Through their words and works, relationships are pointed out that we never guessed before. We don’t know quite what to do with them. They embarrass us. They please us. And among them are great artists.” – Charles Eames

“… people think about wildly running away to the circus and having a good time, such a jolly time. As people used to say, ‘oh, it must be such fun working here every day’, and that’s something that’s unthinkable because at the time you don’t think of it as being fun. It would be marvelous to be able to do, but you don’t say, ‘Oh, how jolly,’ because they’re very difficult things always to face, to do. But the same way with the circus. It was such a tight organization with very strong restrictions because it had to work.” – Ray Eames

“It’s really terrific. We’d always joke that we would run away – you know, when everything fell apart, we would run away to join the circus.”          – Ray Eames





Photos © 2023 Eames Office, LLC. Sketches by Ray of Ringling Bros. Circus, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, The Work of Charles and Ray Eames, LC-USZC4-5441