A Revisionist History?
Metropolis is a source of thoughtful content, a respected voice in the design world, and it lends credibility when it comments. Therefore, I was surprised to see your review of the recent book by Marilyn Neuhart, The Story of Eames Furniture (“Extreme Eames,” by Paul Makovsky, December 2010, p. 28). I also recognize that reading a publisher’s hype versus 800 pages might be tempting. And it takes time to confirm or question so much data. Too bad the integrity of the writing doesn’t match the quality of the layout and photography. I can tell you that the book is neither the story of Eames furniture nor from a credible source. I know this for several reasons, which include being the former vice president of corporate communications at Herman Miller and liaison to the Eames office.
It might be helpful to know that despite published claims, Neuhart never worked at the Eames office, has no responsibility for the Eames archives or house, and never has. While her husband, John, did work at the Eames office, he did so off and on for a period of only seven years, one of more than 400 who were at one time part of the studio during its 47-year history, from 1941 to 1988.
The book is filled with inaccurate accounts, misleading remarks, contradicting facts, and out-of-context quotes. Neuhart ignores any existing documentation that doesn’t support her views. While personal assertions and opinions are hers, of course, they are inconsistent with the opinions of many others who actually worked there.
Neuhart’s vindictiveness toward and dismissal of Ray Eames are evident throughout the book (the cover image of Charles crops out Ray, who was also in that photo). Her attitude was evident when I represented Herman Miller’s role in supporting the Abrams book Eames Design, coauthored by Ray and the Neuharts. In meetings, I saw Ray as the gracious host, collaborator, guide, and documentarian. Marilyn was rude and argumentative with both Ray and John, pushing her view of history, which I always found curious because she had no direct involvement with projects of the Eames office. When I asked Ray why Marilyn was so disagreeable, she would respond with, “That’s just the way she is.”
Neuhart’s purpose in writing the book seems unclear. To me, it reads as a vendetta, not a factual accounting of a uniquely well-led office that generated a lot of very good collaborative thinking and results over a long period.
My biggest concerns are for future historians and designers who might assume Neuhart’s book is valid and miss the benefit of understanding leadership and a truly creative and collaborative design process.
Editors’ note: Marilyn Neuhart was asked to respond but declined. However, we wish to clarify that she never claimed to Paul Makovsky to have worked at the Eames office.