The Eames Elephant might be the most famous toy ever produced by a design team. Simple in shape but complex in technique, the little plywood elephant has come to symbolize the whimsical and imaginative artistry of the Eames' distinctive approach to modernism.
Charles and Ray Eames designed the plywood pachyderm in 1945 during their (now famous) experiments with molded plywood. The duo created two prototypes of the elephant, which were displayed at a MoMA exhibit in 1945-46. However, during the Eames' lifetimes, the design never made it to production due to complicated fabrication methods. Today, only one known original elephant still exists (in the Eames family collection).
In 2007, Vitra, in honor of Charles Eames' centennial, produced 2,000 plywood elephants. The limited edition run proved so popular that the company began to manufacture the plastic version that is still available today.
“Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas.” – Charles & Ray Eames
The elephant wasn't the only foray into toys made by the Eames office. Play as a vehicle for unconstrained creativity occupied a central role in the Eames approach to design. The pair found artistic value in the young imagination and invented playthings that emphasized building, composition, and the beauty of everyday objects. Finding inspiration in shipping containers (much like children), the Eames even designed a box that could be repurposed as a playhouse after the furniture was removed. The heavy cardboard box, reinforced with plywood spines, just needed a few nails from Mom and Dad before the imaginative play could begin. This prefab playhouse demonstrates the Eames' playful approach to experimentation and the potential of unburdened curiosity. You can read more about Eames toys here and here.
While you can still buy the plastic Eames elephant, new designers have continued the tradition of producing high-concept, innovative toys. In my recent search for Easter gifts, I came across a number of design-driven products that spur a child's natural creativity. Check out a few of my favorites (and my toddler's) below.
One last thing- you can make a paper version of the Eames elephant (perfect for a last minute (and free!) addition to that Easter basket) by following this tutorial from the Eames Office.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.