The South |

Regarding Your Work

by Chelsea Hickok

Los Angeles, April 14th, 1949

Dear Mrs. Eames,

I’m going to call you Ray because after seeing your paintings in New York I feel like I know you. I’ve had plenty of time to think about the contents of this letter since I saw your pieces ten years ago when I was on my honeymoon and newly in love and in your paintings I saw hope. Women swirling through blocks of colors at ease in their naked skin. One even seemed not to have shaved her legs. My sexual experience had been so limited up until that trip that the women blooming on the canvas, I was certain, were for me and me alone. Can I tell you I liked your work better than the Picassos?

But the point is I’m upset with you, Ray. The way a beautiful, spoiled, little girl is upset when something doesn’t go her way. Which is to say I know how lucky I am to have seen those paintings but I’m not willing to accept the reality of an adult world that does not contain more of them. You stopped painting. And just as your paintings were a personal caress the absence of new work is a personal affront. Did you let Charles change you? It seems to me his interests consumed yours. Not that your furniture is not wonderful because it is. I’ve asked for your DCW chairs for Christmas three years in a row to no avail. My husband thinks they are ugly, the molded plywood. I think they would look lovely around my dining room table. The curves remind me of your naked ladies. But this goes to the point I was trying to make—my husband has changed me in more ways than I can count. It’s not that he’s so strict. We go out for drinks, we belong to a bowling league. It’s that I can’t identify with the women in your paintings anymore. I realized it when I saw pictures of them in an article about the MOMA. I stared at them for at least an hour but I couldn’t feel it anymore. I even took my clothes off, slip and all and looked at them again. I was sprawled on the couch and I wanted to feel the lithe joy of your ladies, the textural contentment of upholstery against bare skin, a sunbeam to warm my back. It didn’t work. Still in my core I felt ordinary and I worried about the mailman coming to the door or a neighbor stopping by. I was wary of so much skin and I thought my husband might be upset if he knew this is what I did with my days.

I heard the Eames Office hires housewives. A friend of mine told me about it at lunch. Of course she, like my husband, was not excited about it. He doesn’t want me to work and she thinks you’re destroying the home by taking women out of it. She’s not like us. At least, she’s not like I want to be. I’m probably much more like her than I realize but I’ve been waking up mornings thinking about walking into the office and seeing you in person. And what would I say? And what would I wear? And I dream of talking you into painting again. And I dream that you ask me to model for you.

But I’m too skittish to come to the office. Nervous of the certainty you’ll be there. Ray, will you meet me on May 1st at two in the afternoon at the Polo Lounge? You may have been there before. In the Beverly Hills Hotel? Illicit liaisons, potential celebrity sightings, high tea, women in jewels before dark—I hope to see you from across the room. I’ll be wearing a peacock colored hat.


Anna Kline