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What’s an Institute for Anyway?

By John Cary

Illustrations by Josh Cochran

Photography by Paige Ricks

John Cary, president and CEO of the Eames Institute, offers a vision of why we do what we do.

Brightly colored illustration of various Eames chairs, items from nature, and Ray and Charles Eames.
 

For almost three decades, a barn-like building in Petaluma, California, contained remnants of one of the most iconic design legacies of the twentieth century. When I first stepped into the structure on a bright December day several years ago, I felt a mix of reverence, awe, and disbelief, like a historian rediscovering a lost relic from a formative moment of the past.

Amidst a sea of pallet racks and wooden crates, I gravitated to a well-worn metal cabinet with dozens of small, shallow drawers. As I pulled the drawers open, one by one, I discovered tiny figurines, toy spinning tops, swatches of fabric, and a kaleidoscope disguised as a bronze tube. The original purpose of each of these objects was veiled to me, so I stood silently, wondering about the possibilities.

This raw material is “the stuff” that forms the legacy of celebrated designers Ray and Charles Eames, as much as the classic chairs that so many of us know and love. Each unexpected item is connected to a provocation from Ray and Charles about the world as they lived it—and the world as they dreamed it could be.

The Eameses’ vision remains relevant today for what it stirs within us; their work is compelling because they found in everyday objects and materials the inspiration to shape a new perspective, new forms, new purpose. They did this fueled by the relentless curiosity they had about the world they encountered. That mindset—like their work—is timeless. At the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity, we seek to build on that foundation to create a forum for inspiration that will be similarly timeless.

We created the Eames Institute because we want you to examine the archive of what you know—the collection of your experiences, understanding, memories, and questions—and connect to the provocations that call to you. We want you to tap into that same fount of relentless curiosity, and its power to shift your perception and open you to innovations and discoveries.

John Cary, president and CEO of the Eames Institute, sitting in an Eames office chair at the Eames Ranch.

We want you to tap into that fount of relentless curiosity, with its power to shift your perception and open you to innovations and discoveries.

John Cary

President & CEO

Eames Institute

 

Ray and Charles demonstrated a dream and a frame of mind that brought joy to their lives and the lives of those they touched through their work. We intend to catalyze others to empower that mindset within themselves, and then follow a dream wholly their own—wherever they might live, work, and play.

As I realized immediately when I was looking through the remnants of the Eameses’ imaginings, their lessons, like the materials they created and collected, are far too valuable to be hidden away in a private archive, and the problems of our world are much too urgent. We believe that as more people explore their innate sense of curiosity, and connect with the vibrancy that emerges from the intersection of dreams and problem-solving, we can accelerate a new ethos of worldchanging.

As an institute, we take shape to bring people together, create understanding, examine important questions, and share ideas with the world. We begin our work with an understanding that change takes time. Realizing a vision requires patience and persistence. Trial and error. And a belief and trust in people committed to pursuits beyond themselves. Ray and Charles, in their own ways, understood and exemplified each of these qualities.

Brightly colored illustration of Eames chairs, objects from nature, and a large hand holding a small globe.
 

Throughout their storied, decades-long career, the Eameses designed at a point of paradox: They cultivated boundlessness and they craved constraints. The boundlessness spoke to the multidisciplinary breadth of the work; the constraints allowed them to shape their design work purposefully. We think of the Eames Institute as embodying similar intentions: it is a virtual and physical place, constrained by pixels and square feet, where you can explore the transcendent scope of Ray and Charles’s experimentation, and then emerge with renewed excitement for imagining and implementing creative solutions to the challenges of our time.

It is our dream that the Eames Institute becomes a place where you, the reader, and people from all over the world can be reminded that our problems are wicked, but our very human, blessedly universal ability to be curious problem-solvers is wild and wonderful.

Open up your own collections of curiosities—real or proverbial. Engage in the world—observe, listen, and learn. Feed your sense of wonder. Witness the world’s beauty and needs with exquisite precision. Address a need, big or small, and then inspire others to do the same.

And once you have, share your story, and your lessons, with us. ❤

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