A Tale of 2 Schmucks…

I recently watched a couple of films that told similar stories of 2 important creative men who lived their lives like schmucks.

The 2 men that I’m referring to are Charles Eames and Louis Kahn.

I knew a little about Charles Eames through his influence in being a pioneer in the Mid-Century Modern furniture design movement.

I knew nothing about Louis Kahn and his work as an architect, although I had visited the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA when I was in the area.

Before seeing these movies, one thing that has become perfectly clear to me is that men are dogs. It’s a given. You may think that is not true, and think that you know many men who are not, but they are all. Sometimes it just takes time for the dogginess to show.

The result that these two movies had on my impression of them professionally seem somewhat to be polar opposite, despite there being similarities in their circumstances.

The film about Louis Kahn and his 3 families turned into a renewed interest in his work internationally, culminating in the realization of the FDR Memorial, today just being completed on Roosevelt Island in New York City. In addition the film received a Oscar nomination. The film was told from the perspective of the son, who was the third family that Louis Kahn produced.

I wouldn’t say Louis Kahn made a very good father, visiting once a week, and spending holidays with none of his three families, but instead, spending them with a colleague’s family in California. Schmucky.

He was, however, an incredibly devoted architect who worked long hours as both an educator and practitioner, inspiring those around him.

The film Eames, the architect and the painter, had a title which promised a wonderful love story with a Hollywood ending. Their influence on American design in the twentieth century, has been firmly established, first in the 60s with their design of modern furniture, and the rediscovery of their designs at the turn of this new century. This second film, however left you feeling empty and despressed. The movie begins with Charles Eames leaving his wife to be with Ray Kaiser. Charles was an educator at the renown Cranbrook Academy of Art. Ray was a student there. Schmucky.

Ray Eames had an incredible influence on their careers at the start, modernizing their furniture designs using colors that are vibrant and fresh. She added those finishing details that transformed the designs from good to great.

But then after significant recognition following the success of the furniture, Charles transitions their business, leaving Ray behind, while he pursues a career in PR and advertising. And also pursues the love of another woman. Ray is left floundering because her talents are in the visuals arts and design. Not in PR and advertising. Charles seemed to have robbed Ray of her self respect as he courted and proposed marriage to a colleague. Charles was considered a very attractive man.

Louis Kahn, on the other hand, was an ugly man. His career didn’t really kick off until he was in his fifties. He began his third family, while keeping his first and second families, when he was in his sixties. They were all aware of each other, but paths rarely crossed. Louis Kahn died in a public bathroom in Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan and was unidentified for 3 days.

Charles died at a time when midcentury modern was considered passe, and shortly after a rather poorly reviewed exhibition he designed with Ray for the 1776 bicentennial, Franklin & Jefferson.


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