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Since the early 1950s, photographs of the Eames House show a small black bird sitting on the living room floor. The wooden bird is still there to greet visitors to the landmark house in Pacific Palisades, California. The bird also appears in commercial photos taken by Charles Eames, one of which quickly reached iconic status: the bird’s graphic silhouette is juxtaposed against a geometric grid of several Eames Wire Chairs. The Eames House Bird is so familiar to us, but what is its story?
Charles and Ray Eames did not design the bird sculpture, but kept it as part of their personal collection of objects. The bird originally served as a crow decoy and was most likely carved during the early 1900s in Henry, Illinois, where artisan Charles Perdew had a business making and selling wooden bird decoys and calls. Perdew offered birds in many variations, all of them reflecting the wildlife on the Illinois River. Charles and Ray Eames were fascinated by the pure expression of this handmade bird and likely bought it on their travels during the 1940s. Since then, Charles Perdew’s wooden decoy birds have become very popular among collectors of American folk art and are occasionally found at auctions. Since 2007, the Eames House Bird has been made available to a wider audience through Vitra’s re-edition.