The Eames Leg Splint
In 1942, there was a great need for emergency transport splints for wounded soldiers. At the time, Levis perforated metal splints, which were designed in 1890, were still being used and often caused more harm than good. The American spirit of contributing to the war effort prompted Charles and Ray Eames to design a leg splint made from plywood. The young married couple still held day jobs and after work they would run experiments using the newly introduced Kazam! Machine, which molded together thin sheets of wood.
The leg splint was molded to Charles Eames’ own leg and when it was introduced, it was an immediate success—it was lightweight, utilitarian, simple to manufacture and transport in large numbers and its slats allowed medics to pass cloth through it. Around 150,000 splints were ordered, allowing Charles Eames to quit his job and focus full time on designing.
The LCW, which has been often referred to as “the chair of the century,” followed in 1945 and has much in common with the leg splint— both are curved with a concern for the human body, modest and functional in their appearance, and it was the splint’s design that perfected their revolutionary use of plywood. The splint, along with the LCW, embodies the modern design ethos of the marriage of function and form of which the Eamses were innovators and masters.
Birth of the Modern
Peter Loughrey was a talented pioneer motivated by a restless enthusiasm, crucially driven by the willingness to communicate, to share and to discover. An intuitive feel for the burgeoning interest in post-war design led Peter to establish the nascent LA Modern Auctions in 1992 — soon to evolve into the very first dedicated auction platform of its type. Although the initial turnover those first years was modest, LAMA’s impact and resonance was to spearhead a new era of collecting. With these auctions Peter, together with his wife and co-director Shannon, swiftly developed an interactive platform for what was evolving as an increasingly globalised tide of enthusiasts, dealers, curators and collectors. His auctions became a raison d’être, justification to what many of us were at the time tentatively yet willingly exploring. Here, in these auctions, post-war design was spot-lit centre stage, and celebrated as a movement in its own right.
If these initial auctions consolidated and gave focus to the market, then they also gave us an identity — achieved very simply through the semantics of the company that celebrated ‘modern’. A simple and obvious choice, but so influential and less cumbersome than the prevailing options of "twentieth century" or "post-war." Auctions at that time were traditionally associated with antiques, and there was a general disinterest within the trade to consider anything less than seventy years old as having any cultural or collectible value. Although this market had been described as being "modern" for some years already in the US, the word had not yet been internationalised beyond American shores to represent a collecting movement.
LAMA was established at exactly the right time. The zeitgeist was perfect, and helped guide many of us. Around this time I returned from the US and was shortly set to curate my first design auctions for Christie’s in London. Peter’s catalogues during this explorative period were invaluable. Perhaps difficult to understand now, in our era of immediate communication, but the fully illustrated printed LAMA catalogues were the equivalent of a fanzine that would be passed around, photocopied and then memorised. Nowhere else at the time was contained the detailed information that could allow us, many thousands of miles away in London, to distinguish between an early or a late example of, say, an Eames LCW, or to be exposed to the furniture of Schindler or Neutra. And crucially, there were prices. The prices meant that the market was real. And every so often there would be something in Peter’s sales — a trophy lying in wait for the knowledgeable — that would yield a revolutionary price, setting new records and issuing concentric ripples that gave us the confidence to recognise that our passion for this material was no daydream.
Peter had the fortune to discover his calling, and the certainty to pursue it, his delight for discovery underpinned by curatorial seriousness. Together with Shannon, LAMA established a keystone in the foundations of the modern market, flag-bearers of international design and with a global message. Today LAMA co-anchors a dedicated and influential network of US auction sites, all specialised graduates of that early era of modern discovery. A shared mission is always the most pleasurable, so thank you Peter, for helping guide the way.
Curator and advisor
Andrews Art Advisory