In her native Sacramento, Ray Eames still touches our daily lives.
In classrooms, restaurants and airport waiting areas (plus countless homes), furniture designed by Eames and her husband, Charles, is still in use.
The continued popularity of their modern designs keeps their furniture plus games, toys, household accessories and other work still in production today. In fact, there are more new Eames products available now than when Ray died in 1988, 10 years after Charles.
Today, the California Museum opens a yearlong show, "Ray Eames: A Century of Modern Design," which celebrates the centennial of her birth. In addition, Ray and Charles Eames (rhymes with "dreams") will be inducted by the museum into its California Hall of Fame on March 20.
Among the mementoes on display is a letter from another influential Sacramento woman, Eleanor McClatchy of The Bee's publishing family, who was among Ray's early mentors. She thanked Ray for a chair.
"I am so comfortable when I sit in it, I can hardly get out," McClatchy wrote. "It is really wonderful."
Those chairs remain perfect for sitting. The couple extensively researched what shapes were most comfortable for a wide range of sizes; Ray stood barely 4-foot-11 while her husband was much taller.
Furniture manufacturer Herman Miller still produces more than 100 Eames chair designs and other furnishings including the iconic lounge chair and ottoman (which now costs $4,499 for the set, many times the original price tag) and their familiar molded plastic armchair ($369). See those designs at www.hermanmiller.com.
During the exhibit, the museum will offer some less pricey Eames designs at a pop-up store in its lobby. That includes Eames' "House of Cards" play set: decks of photo cards with six slots, so they can be used for building. Taken by Ray and Charles Eames, the photos feature what they considered "good stuff" spools of thread, buttons, sliced apples, daisies, cauliflower, fabric, etc. chosen by the designers to celebrate "familiar and nostalgic objects from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms."
In midtown Sacramento, Lumens Light + Living (www.lumens.com) carries an assortment of Eames housewares and furnishings such as whimsical trays ($90, manufactured by Vitra) featuring Ray's original designs.
Decades after the designers' deaths, Vitra started manufacturing the Eames elephant, made for kids to climb all over. The toy/ furniture was never mass- produced during their lifetimes. The original plywood model is part of the museum show.
With an impeccable sense of color, Ray Eames loved to play with prints. Fabric maker Maharam (www. maharam.com) reissued several prints designed by her as part of its "Textiles of the 20th Century" collection.
Because their work was ubiquitous, vintage Eames pieces pop up often in stores that specialize in midcentury modern, such as Sacramento's Scout Living or in estate sales.
"People keep sending us things (for the exhibit) from Italy, back East, all over," said project manager Brenna Hamilton a week before the show's opening. "There's a lot of Eames out there."
One find occurred close to home a mustard-color upholstered armchair salvaged from the original Nut Tree in Vacaville. Until recently, it had been used at a local Elks Lodge.
Said Hamilton, "A lot of people sat in those chairs and never knew they were designed by a woman from Sacramento."
RAY EAMES: A CENTURY OF MODERN DESIGN
Where: California Museum, 1020 O St., Sacramento
When: Opens today. Continues through Feb. 23, 2014.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays.
Admission: $8.50 general; $7 college students and seniors age 65 and up; $6 ages 6-17; children age 5 and younger admitted free.
Details: www.californiamuseum.org, (916) 653-0650
Also: The museum will be closed March 20 for the California Hall of Fame inductions. Ray Eames and husband Charles Eames will be among the inductees.