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choir robes

Chapel Choir Robes

The Chapel Choir robes were designed fifty years ago by Charles and Ray Eames, a husband-and-wife team among the most influential designers of the twentieth century.  Filmmakers, poets, painters and furniture designers, the couple was hired in the 1940s as consultants by the Herman Miller Company, which had been impressed by a widely acclaimed furniture-design exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art featuring the work of Charles Eames.  In 1952, when the Herman Miller Company started a mixed chorus, Ray Eames offered to design robes for the choir.  It is not known whether the robes were produced in California, where Charles and Ray kept an office, or in Holland, where some believe they were sewn by local seamstresses.  In 1960, the Herman Miller Mixed Chorus disbanded and the robes were given to Hope College, where they became the performing apparel of the Chapel Choir.

The robe colors are intended to symbolize the four primary voice parts, from highest and brightest (yellow) to lowest and darkest (purple).  The black horizontal lines represent an extended grand staff, and the other black swatches stand for random notes in the universe.  Purity of tone and faith are represented by the prevailing white that appears on every surplice.  No one would ever describe these robes as subtle; they are very much in line with the bold and quirky designs of mid-century modernism.  But, as the work of Charles and Ray Eames, they hold a special place in twentieth century art and design, and would be at home in art galleries everywhere.


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