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Before They Were the Eameses

Fashion Drawing: Evening Dress in Black and Gray

c. 1930

At twenty, Ray wrote to her mother declaring that she wanted to earn a living in “commercial art, either advertising or costume design.” Six years later, she wrote again saying that her friend Eleanor McClatchy “told me that ‘Fran’ (Francis Hayes) was to give a concert in February and wanted a costume, so I drew up several designs and sent them to Eleanor—who seemed to like them very much.”

The drawing is signed “Ray Kaiser” in the lower right corner.

  • Medium:Metallic ink, watercolor, graphite on paper
  • Dimensions:17 15/16 x 12 in. (45.6 x 30.5 cm)
  • Item:A.2019.2.009
Curatorial Notes
This strongly geometric dinner gown designed by Ray is dramatic in its simplicity. The position of the model’s arms (which would cause her to lift her shoulders), the three horizontal bands ascending from dark smoke-gray above the waist to light blue-gray, and the nipped waist all combine to draw the viewer’s eye to the slightly oversized shoulders, a feature of women’s fashions in the following decade. The absence of jewelry and the silhouette of the model’s torso outlined in silver against the sleeves also enhance the illusion of broad shoulders. The limited color palette of the dress only strengthens its dramatic impact.

While in high school from 1929–1931, Ray belonged to the Art Club. It is likely this drawing and several others in the collection were drawn there. It is also likely that her close friend Marion Russell was a member, too. The handwriting of both signatures appears to be that of Ray, but we don’t know if the tall, blonde, attractive Marion was the inspiration for this drawing, the intended recipient, or worked on it with Ray.

Dale Carolyn Gluckman