The Eames elephant made a brief but memorable appearance in 1945–46 in a design show at the Architectural League of New York. The stool also turned up in a historic Eames exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Then the endearing pachyderm, a model of molded plywood technology, disappeared into the closet of 20th century design history. Until now. This month, to mark the centennial of Charles Eames' birth on June 17, 1907, the Eames Elephant goes into limited production. The Swiss furniture company Vitra decided to master the complex curves that made the elephant charming, stackable, and challenging to produce. The elephant's head is molded from a single piece of plywood gently bent to serve as trunk and-ears, giving the object its iconic profile.
Around 1945, while developing their innovative plywood splints and chairs, the Eameses also designed a menagerie of plywood animals. They were sculptural enough to be decorative and sturdy enough to support a child. But none of the creatures—elephant, frog, seal, bear, and horse—moved beyond the concept stage.
In the Eameses' lifetime (Charles died in 1978, Ray in 1988), only two elephants were made. Test-driving one in the photo is Pundy, the son of photographer and graphic artist Herbert Matter. Charles Eames' grandson, Eames Demetrios, reports that now his family retains the only surviving model.
Vitra has long held licensing rights to Eames designs in Europe, and it also owns the bulk of objects from the Eames estate. The company will issue 1,000 elephants in natural or crimson-stained maple.
The price of memory: The limited-edition Eames Elephant will cost $1,900.