In the 1960s, they were modern and sleek. Now, they are collectibles.
Molded plastic Eames chairs that were used for 50 years in the Augusta Richmond County Public Library on Greene St. are being decorated by artists for an auction to benefit the new library on Telfair Street.
The chairs will be sealed at a paint and body shop before being auctioned.
"We want to make sure they don't just become objects. We want them to continue being chairs, so we don't want the stuff flaking off of them," said James "J" Quarles, one of the artists. "I'm definitely excited about the project, and couldn't be more thankful to Millie (Klosinski) for making sure the chairs don't end up in a landfill."
Klosinski, the development officer for the Augusta library, said she was doing an inventory of furnishings of the old library when she noticed a tag on the panel of her desk. A Google search revealed that the desk was highly sought by Mid Century Modern collectors. The revelation inspired research on all the furniture in the library, where she discovered a large collection of Eames stacking chairs that were used in the auditorium. The chairs also are sought by collectors.
Quarles, who works for a local architectural firm, said he has an old Eames chair in his office that he bought at a yard sale 10 years ago.
"I grew up with them in the cafeterias of all the schools I went to. And now, they're real valuable," said Robin Raymond, another artist on the project. "They are the original chairs from the first library, and so that makes it neat that they will help the new library."
Klosinski said the artists only could submit designs that represent the 1960s through art, literature or fashion. Raymond said her four chairs will be painted to look like large Campbell's Soup cans. Quarles is mimicking the décor of Charles and Ray Eames' office on two of his chairs, and abstract or distorted designs from previous architectural projects on others.
Artist Michelle Pieper's design resembles an old, psychedelic Volkswagen van, complete with a chrome bumper around the bottom.
One of the artists will not use any paint. Ed Elser, a blacksmith hobbyist, is making one chair with a metal floral vine entwined around it.
"They're pretty, curved chairs. And they are still timeless," Elser said.
"When something gets that old and still has beauty and youthfulness, it seemed only natural to have a flower wrapping around it."
Elser's other chair features a tri-color metal fleur de lis inset that was designed by his 9-year-old daughter, Melinda. Some of the metal used on both chairs is actually old, metal shelves from the old library, in addition to a piece of metal shelving from the new library. Elser, who is a member of Phillip Simmons Artist Blacksmith of North America, said he spent 40 hours working on one chair.
"I've always paid extra to be a member of the Augusta library, even though I live in (South Carolina)," Elser said.
"I always thought the modern furniture and design of the old building was neat. So, it's worth it to help out the library."
Other artists working on the chairs include: Russ Bonin, Matthew Buzzell, Jason Craig, Kathy Engler, Lynn Forbes, Rob Forbes, Stephanie Forbes, Steven Harrison, Xavier Jones, Elizabeth Malpass, Rich Menger, Tom Nakashima, Tom Nielson, Steve Penley, Chris Rucker, Michael Siewert, and Margaret Ann Smith.
The chairs will be auctioned at a gala on October 20. For more information, or to sponsor an artist or the gala, call (706) 821-2612.