Thelen: [Feedback] Now why does it doing that, is it because the mics are too close to each other? That seemed to be… Franz


Thelen: Like a storyboard. Charles



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Thelen: Like a storyboard.

Charles: That were storyboards of the exhibit, but all of it by hand. Charles one day said he wanted to take these back to review at the Smithsonian. I said “Oh I have got to really clean them up I have got to type them, I have got to do this, do that.” And he said, “No, no, no, I want it just like this. It will make the client think that is it is just a work in progress and they can have some input.” How much they would have would be a different question, but they could think they could have some input. That show ultimately opened. We were back, you had gone back east once before to work on, with Gene Balen because you talk about the time…you had met Gene at the Smithsonian with Naru because the Naru show went to the Smithsonian.

When Bob - but I thought for Photography in the City you had gone one time or maybe you were there earlier than I was there but I thought maybe you would made one trip back to case out the site. You tell your story about that woman, a woman saying how could her Eames chairs fit her body or something like that. Maybe that’s a Gene Balon story, anyway. Ultimately, I think Bob was there ahead of me, but the office began to decamp to Washington. I think there was ultimately you and Dave Olney and Darrell Conabear possibly? Me, anyway, and Charles. Charles was writing the text and Charles had not finished the text before we all had to leave for Washington and had about three weeks to get this installed. So Charles ultimately was up on the balcony of the A and I Building.



Staples: In a secure office.

Thelen: Way up there.

Charles: Writing and dropping it down to me. Literally. I had meanwhile, the first day I got there, Smithsonian had a typesetter come in and I got taught how to mark up type. I was now responsible for getting all of the text done and produced while Bob and the other were getting the actual physical exhibit put together. Bob mentioned the secure office because we kept our cameras in the secure office and one day the desk disappeared from the secure office.

Thelen: The desk, but not the cameras?

Charles: No the cameras were in the desk, we never found the cameras. We eventually found desk, but so much for a secure office. Prior to this trip to Washington I remember something, I do not really remember who it was, asked me what is it like at the Eames office, what are the people like? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I said generally everybody was friendly except this one guy in the back who did furniture who would not talk to me, but I was working with him on this project. We are back in Washington and I guess to make the story short, this guy in the back got very friendly, so a relationship started probably when it should not quite have at that point, but it did.

Thelen: Why not? Why should not it have or do I want to know that?

Charles: Bob was married, I was at the end of a bad marriage, a brief bad marriage.

Thelen: I do not mean to pry. So that went on and off at the office for the whole time I was there. Which was how much?

Charles: Four years.

Thelen: Four more years.

Charles: I was there from 67 to 71.

Thelen: So I guess we better fill in the details here. At some point you got out of marriage in one way or another.

Charles: Yes.

Charles: I left mine when I went east to Washington. I had said to Nick my husband that I was not going to live with him when I got back. We had had some a bit nasty stuff. When I got back I had to look for an apartment. Actually at a fourth of July party at Bob’s house I was told there was an apartment available above the carousel on the Santa Monica Pier. I was told kind of, well it was a woman whose son had an apartment there and she said “go see Simon and Simon will tell you how to get it because they do not really want women living there,” Or at least single women. I got - I told the people that my husband was in Vietnam and he would be coming back sometime and so I needed an apartment. They gave me the apartment. They never asked me after that, once I had an apartment there.

So I lived above the Santa Monica carousel for three years. That got me involved in carousels. I ultimately left the Eames office to drive around the country to photograph carousels and make a census of them. After Photography in the City we worked on IBM showroom here in Washington, I think that might have been the next project. Then this very big important project, Computer Perspective, which is this book ultimately published by Harvard, I was not responsible for the book although I do get a credit for research. It is probably the first history, serious history written on the computer. It goes from Charles Babbage to John VonNeumin. Again this was - Glen Fleck was the key kind of intellectual person working on it, Bob was the senior designer. I was doing the research. I do not know who was doing graphics actually because Deborah was not around, Paul, Paul Brewbier maybe. Very good graphic designer from Switzerland.



Thelen: I am a little confused, was that still with Eames?

Charles: Yes, that’s all with Eames, all Eames. Again an IBM project.

Thelen: And you were involved with that too?

Staples: Yes.

Charles: He is the primary designer on that. For my time at the Eames office, because the aquarium never happened, as we understood the story, Goldwater had more clout that Udall and Goldwater wanted the Air and Space Museum. So the Air and Space Museum got built and the aquarium did not get built.

Staples: Military industrial complex.

Thelen: There it is right there. The national mall, the vision of the military industrial complex.

Charles: And we worked on other things. There was a plan at one point for an IBM museum at Endcott, New York. I think there is another little film about that. Again it was with Roach-Dicalu, that did not happen. There was a plan for a while, Charles got involved with Annenbergs, and there was a plan for an Annenberg communication center at the Met with Hogain. I think again there were some maybe a little film done about how that might work, early computer stuff. Computer Perspective had interactive computers in it, but of course we have got huge mainframes in the back room. The IBM 360 is sort of the newest computer. No personal computers at this point.

It would actually be terribly funny if I went out to a party and got talking to people, I remember one time somebody going on and on about how contemporary computers were. I am supposed to know all about this, but I only know up to John Von Noymen, because the whole issue is what is a computer and in this book we are basically saying when Von Noyman essentially outlines in a paper and then they build the Ekneeact at Princeton it fulfills Babbage’s idea of a calculating, thinking, statistical. I mean there is kind of three things we outline that have to come together to make a working computer.



If I could make a pitch for open stacks, that book would not have happened if UCLA did not still have open stacks. They were slowly closing the stacks, but the whole science technical end had not yet been closed. The office had a pact with - we probably paid UCLA probably a hundred dollars a year or something to have library privileges. I would go over there to look something up, but I would look at all the books on both sides and there is some wonderful things in there. Particularly some of the fun stuff on early thinking machines or hoax thinking machines that we would not have known about.

Thelen: You did not know exactly what you were looking for and you needed the serendipity of this.

Charles: I knew I wanted this, but then I would find all this other stuff, so I would haul all these books back and they were great.

Thelen: I know about open stacks.

Charles: And the sadness now you know how can you define something carefully enough to find something and who knows.

Staples: Tell me what you want.

Thelen: Tell what, yes I do not know and worse I do not know that I do not know.

Charles: I do not know that it even exists.

Thelen: So this whole would not have happened without open stacks.

Charles: Well it would have happened, but there is just some wonderful things in that book that were serendipitous because I would sit in the floor in the open stacks.

Staples: Did you bring RUR to the table that way?

Charles: What’s RUR?

Staples: It is a film.

Charles: RUR is a film. No I did not bring RUR. I think it was more like the earlier stuff, the chess playing machine. Early, early the 18th century chess-playing machines.

Staples: With the guy inside.

Charles: With the guy inside, the fakes.

Thelen: This is great. How does this work?

Charles: There is a guy underneath inside.

Thelen: Of a chess-playing machine, so obviously it is a big chess piece.

Staples: It is a chess board.

Charles: It is an automaton who can move things. And underneath is a guy. Actually I would have to look through the book because we really started in more 1880s.

Staples: 1890s was Holoroth machine.

Thelen: So why were you interested?

Charles: Why was I interested?

Thelen: What was there about this new technology?

Charles: I was not interested I was assigned it.

Thelen: You were assigned it. I guess I knew that.

Staples: This is the curiosity of the Eames office. You get this project and all then into it like trying a fish in water, trying to swim.

Thelen: So nobody said, do a computer perspective. Somebody was sort of screwing around.

Charles: No, no, no Charles had an agreement with IBM.

Thelen: That is where I am trying to go.

Charles: I said earlier I would really like to work on this. We do not know the genesis of some of these projects, including that one. My guess would be that Tom Watson said to Charles in our main office at 590 Madison we would really like to have an exhibit on computers. It could have been that general. Charles meanwhile was fascinated by timelines, had done the huge Mathematica timelines, are they around here? They are up there, we will get them out at lunch. There are these atlases that were put out in the nineteenth century that are like twelve feet long of timelines and they take you everything from the Bible….

Staples: Twelve feet, two and seven eighths inches or something. [laughter]

Charles: He found these things, Adams timelines. He got really into timelines, so you have the Mathematica timeline, Herman Miller timeline. So this computer thing became a timeline.

Staples: Three dimensional timeline.

Charles: A timeline like nobody should ever have to understand. You can see it in the background here. It is back in here, [feedback] here is a section of it [feedback] I suspect it was Glen’s idea, but somebody had the idea that on the glass we could make a flow chart and that would have the text. Well nobody really dealt with the issue that looking through glass and text and trying to read it could conceivably be difficult. So there is a flow chart on the glass that has the major concepts in it.

Thelen: I see it.

Charles: Then behind that are objects and we borrowed stuff from the science museum in London, we borrowed stuff from all over, including Claude Shannon’s mouth.

Thelen: This is a book called Computer Perspective and I am looking at it and there is some sort of clean plastic or glass on the front. There are descriptions and behind it are various things including photographs, but I want to say is it looks pretty.

Staples: Cluttered.

Charles: Impossible.

Thelen: Well, it might look those things, but what I am struck by is the layout has been adopted by a lot of recent museums. Was this new, this notion of putting a story out here and then an artifact behind it? Had this been done before?

Charles: I do not think so.

Staples: I do not know.

Charles: I do not think so. Wait a minute, we had seen.

Thelen: I am sorry I am distracting the story, but I am kind of intrigued looking at the picture.

Charles: Eero Saarinen designed the headquarters of John Deer in Molin. Alexander Girard did not have the text on the front glass, it did not have any text, but he made on one huge wall, at least one hundred feet long, maybe more, he filled it with kind of the materials of farm life. Bought things, whether it was plows or canned goods, I mean all kinds of stuff and just made this artistic arrangement of it.

Staples: Behind glass.

Charles: Behind glass and we were sent to see that. Bob and I, a year or two before this happened, so certainly that would have to be considered an influence on this. But this had an intellectual level to it that is pretty incredible. Scientific American gave me credit for outstanding research on that book when it was published. So this was, I mean, the challenge was, it was a big challenge. Glen was very bright he was working on it, but there was also a guy, Lyn Stoler.

Staples: An IBMer.

Charles: An IBMer sent to work with us. He went native after that. He stayed in LA bought a little house on the canal.

Staples: Corduroy suit.

Thelen: He did go native. They do not wear those in Manhattan.

Charles: But we went to the IBM archives up in Endicott and things like that. We also got into finding other things to go with this. How does the general public know what time it is?

Thelen: We did have big numbers at the top, but when you are looking down at all the little stuff.

Charles: So we intermixed World War One stuff and a wonderful piece of sheet music called Dawn of the Century that talked about all of the new inventions of the dawn of the century. One of our great outings, the curator at the, history curator, we knew them because of working on Photography in the City, Bob knew them and so on. We asked where could we get political stuff for every election. We were sent to go see George Rislin in Allentown Pennsylvania. It was a track house looked perfectly normal upstairs, but then you get to the basement which was his area and this guy ran a mail auction.

Thelen: A mail auction?

Charles: Yes, M A I L auction. He would send out a catalog of memorabilia. I mean this is sort of pre-Ebay. You would send out a catalog and people would send in their bids, either call them in or write them in. the highest bidder after a certain amount of time would get that piece. He had all kinds of incredible stuff. We told what we wanted and he said some of these pieces, I mean I know what the owners want for them. I think they were things that were not in the auction yet, I think I could price them and just sell them to you. So in his house we laid out political campaigns from 1890 or so to 92 with Cleveland or 88 to 48 or 52 to be demarcations. And then we sort of said, well who else has this kind of stuff we got sent to another guy, Pennybaker, what was Mr. Pennybaker’s first name.

Staples: I think it was Bill.

Charles: Bill Pennybaker, he was an elegant, very small man. Above Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and kind of west of New Hope. Heartsville up 611. Lived in a great 18th century house. Well he had been an art director at Philco. He had a great eye. He sold ephemera.

Staples: What is ephemera?

Thelen: I think I know someone who has an interest in ephemera.

Staples: And that is what got us started is this project got us interested in ephemera.

Thelen: First interested in ephemera the possibilities, oh that’s really interesting.

Charles: That it could tell things, that is what I gave my talk on Friday. I called it out of the closet where does it go?

Thelen: I was actually looking at the piece you wrote on ephemera that you left for me.

Charles: No I did not give you an ephemera piece did I? Oh the piece for Benjamin Franklin. Yes, that was for ephemera society.

Thelen: So this was the moment when you came to see the possibilities of juxtaposing ephemera?

Charles: We were using it essentially what I would call its face value. Somebody could look at it quickly say oh that is that period. It is telling time. What I actually tried to argue on Friday is that that is one thing, but if you start looking really into pieces of ephemera, like a runaway slave ad or something like that. They are sort of like one sheet stories. They almost ask more questions than they answer, which is very different than just a flag or a political campaign thing that says “Vote for Ike” that is all it is, vote for Ike, it is no more than that. That got us into ephemera stuff. Later on we have been called the clutter school of design.

Thelen: Who called you that and in what context?

Staples: Context is evident. It started with that timeline.

Charles: I was called that, I do not think you were there. Gary Coolick was at the National Museum of American History and I went up as an attendee, not a speaker I do not think, although maybe I had a slight speaking role at a conference that became the book that I sent you from Joe Blady. Gary called us the clutter school of design and inferred that we no longer were in business. I think it was done in a context of there was this clutter school of design and we are moving past it. I remember waving my hand and saying while no we are still here. Out of that came that piece that I wrote for Joe Blady out of that conference. That was the first time I wrote anything about exhibits.

Thelen: Let us bracket that and come back to it.

Charles: So Eames, that was my last big Eames piece.

Thelen: So two follow up things, so I have it clear. Your relationship at what point you were working together and you can describe this, at some point, I do not even know if you are married now?

Charles: We got married after twenty seven years of living together.

Thelen: But you started living together when?

Charles: Well, okay.

Thelen: I hope this is not, if you feel this is inappropriate. You are collaborators so there is something about your collaboration.

Staples: We started living together in seventy-three, but we had some affairs from seventy-one to….

Charles: No it 68 to 71 and I left the Eames office. In part because of that in part….

Thelen: To hopefully put an end to it?

Charles: Well, I do not know that it was.

Staples: She got burned out.

Charles: Burned out on IBM .

Staples: And so she wanted out of the Eames office.

Charles: And I got interested in carousels.

Staples: She had not ridden one as a child. She had not taken pictures at all to speak of until Charles says, “well if you are going to San Francisco take a camera.”

Charles: What he really said, I was headed to San Francisco and he said take some film. I said, “why do I take film I do not have a camera.” You do not have a camera. How can you exist? How can you think you are a visual person?

Staples: It was, what do they call it? A hail Mary moment.

Charles: It was like Jesus Christ

Staples: Eureka moment, I am employing you and you do not have a camera. It was like anything you can imagine. So I got a camera.

Staples: He loaned you a camera did not he?

Charles: No, I did not have a camera initially, but my father was still going back and forth to Japan so my father bought me a Nikon. Maybe he was even in Japan. Somehow I got a Nikon within a month or two. I was then going out with Mark Tribe at, who taught at Berkeley. Mark taught in the architecture department, but he was a very gifted graphic designer. I should not use was, he still is. This is probably sixty-eight and sort of, demonstration du jour, lecture du jour. He would make these great graphics and they would just run on the blueprint machine. It did not matter if they faded in a week or two he had a deadline.

I remember him just saying to me,” here are the keys to my car get out of here for a couple of hours, there is a carousel up in Tilden Park go photograph it.” Well by now I did have a camera, so I photographed it and there were one or two shots that were not too shabby. Bob went around with me some Saturdays. They became a way to learn photography because they had daylight, they had action, they had kids, they had interesting things to shoot. But if you blew it totally, you could go back the next week, it was not like a sports event, you had that one shot and it was over, you could keep trying. So I got interested in that.

One day I saw in the newspaper that some Illeans carousel figures were for sale. Pomona fairgrounds had a great Illeans carousel. It said MC illeans and sona. You knew it was Illeans, it was all marked. And it had these great nudes on the sides of the mirrors. I called up the people with the horses for sale and said, “I do not want a horse but I would like one of those mirrors, do you have one of those by any chance?” They were sort of surprised that I was that specific, so obviously I knew what I was looking at. So they invited me to come over and it turns out that the husband in the family had been a classmate of my brother’s at Pomona. These people were amazing, the Summits, they could look at one of my photographs and just look at a hoof and say, “oh that's a Hersah Spilman or that’s a Denzel,” they really knew their stuff. I did not know this stuff.

At that point when you visited a carousel, they would tell you it was made in Germany and they did not know what they were doing. They became friends, so over a couple of years I got to know other carousel people. This scheme evolved, I do not even know how it evolved or why it evolved. But I was going to once that opened, which was opening around December of seventy, either December or January that I was going to leave the Eames office and drive around the country and photograph carousels. I wrote to the International Amusement Park Association and said I wanted to do this and they agreed to put a little postcard in their monthly newsletter that people could send back to me to tell me what they had at their park. I had about fifty of those. I had been keeping a little notebook if I went to a party or somebody said they had a childhood memory I would just write down. Anyway I could figure out where carousels where. Now we have census on the internet, but I would write things down. So some of this information was ten, twenty years old that I had written down, that I had because of people remembering things. May one I left.



Thelen: Was this just a project you were doing for yourself?


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