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Toys & Play

Circus Mirror


The Eameses loved the circus. Charles once said, “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.…The Layout of the circus under canvas is more like a plan of the Acropolis than anything else.” When the circus came to Los Angeles they regularly attended and photographed what they saw—both in the ring and behind the scenes. This circus mirror, with its swooping profile that distorts a viewer's image, gave Ray and Charles a way to bring the wonder and whimsy of the circus into other settings. Mirrors like this one were used to demonstrate optical principles in the exhibition, Mathematica: A World of Numbers…and Beyond, and in 1964, similar mirrors were installed in the IBM Pavilion that the Eames Office designed with architectural firm Eero Saarinen & Associates for the New York World’s Fair. The mirrors were mounted horizontally along the side of a raised plant bed so that children could entertain themselves with them while their parents rested on nearby benches. Circus mirrors such as this can be spotted several times in the short film IBM at the Fair that the Eames Office made in 1965 to document the project, most prominently in a playful sequence in which, first, three children are shown making silly faces at an unseen audience, and then the next shot reveals that audience to be their own distorted reflections.

  • Medium:Glass, wood
  • Dimensions:78 x 40 x 20 in. (198.1 x 101.6 x 50.8 cm)
  • Item:2019.2.372