Some of the 20th century’s greatest designers were just as gifted in expressing love as they were in building masterpieces. This Valentine’s Day, we corralled handwritten letters sent to–or received from–spouses, colleagues, and mistresses of Ray Eames, Charles Eames, Isamu Noguchi, Rudolph Schindler, and Milton Glaser. The notes express everything from lust and love to devotion and gratitude, but their message is all the more touching knowing that the thoughts came straight from the author’s heart to their pen–a sentiment no mass-produced card, Paperless Post, or text can replicate.
Eero Saarinen to Aline Saarinen
In 1953, Eero Saarinen married Aline Louchheim, an art critic who was assigned a profile on him right after he finished designing the GM Technical Center in Detroit. Here’s a letter he sent to her about why he loved her. The man apparently liked a good list.
I – First I recognized that you were very clever
II – That you were very handsome
III – That you were perceptive
IV – That you were enthusiastic
V – That you were generous
VI – That you were beautiful
VII – That you were terribly well organized
VIII – That you were fantastically efficient
IX – That you dress very very well
III A – That you have a marvelous sense of humor
X – That you have a very beautiful body
XI – That you are unbelievably generous to me
XII – That the more one digs the foundations, the more and more one finds the solidest of granite for you and I to build a life together upon. (I know this is not a good sentence.)
Isamu Noguchi to Ruth Page; May 9, 1934
Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi was widely known to have a few loves during his lifetime. For about one year, Noguchi and Ruth Page, a dancer and choreographer, had an affair while she was married. Their relationship ended amicably and they remained friends afterward.
I enclose two letters of introduction—one to my father and the other Yoshio Nitobe, editor of the Japan Times. Nitobe san is an excellent companion and should be of use to you, especially if he is still with the paper.
I look back with happiness on the few days we spent together. Alas, alas, how sad is this world—or possibly it is just simply me. At any rate I am much elevated since the doldrums in which you found me—now I look for new worlds.
If you plan to go to Peking let me know and I will think of someone there.
Could you not simply drag me away, abduct me into a coral reef.
Property—my tools and my nebulous ambitions—I would like to dump everything for one week of tropical skies and forget fullness.
My love to you
Charles Eames to Ray Kaiser; 1941
Charles and Ray Eames are the first family of modern design. Here’s how Charles proposed to Ray in 1941.
Dear Miss Kaiser,
I am 34 (almost) years old, single (again) and broke. I love you very much and would like to marry you very very soon.* I cannot promise to support us very well—but if given the chance I will shure in hell try—
*soon means very soon.
What is the size of this finger??
as soon as I get to that hospital I will write “reams” well little ones.
Ray Eames to Jim Eppinger; September 15, 1952
While some love letters express passion and romance, others–like this one from Ray Eames to Jim Eppinger, one of the furniture company Herman Miller’s East Coast sales managers–represent friendship. While this letter is signed “r” and “c,” archivists at Herman Miller attribute the handwriting to Ray.
Such a long time!
But we are
Love and kisses,
r + c
Jeyana Marling to Rudolph Schindler
Midcentury architect Rudolph Schindler “had quite a few mistresses,” says Julia Larson, an archivist at UC Santa Barbara. While the university doesn’t have any of the letters Schindler sent to his paramours, it does have some of the ones he received, which were addressed to “Michael,” his middle name.
Jeyana Marling and her husband, John Bovingdon, were both dancers and performed at the Schindler House. Marling also had an affair with Schindler. This is a letter she sent to him.
Knowing you are in Los Angeles makes it a very attractive place. Today I leave America more humble [and] stronger. If we should never see each other again know you are a beautiful person to me—but we shall.
c/o American Express London
6 Haymarket SW1
Ellen Janson to Rudolph Schindler; date unknown
Ellen Janson, one of Schindler’s clients, sent the following letter to him.
If this happens to reach you when you are with others, just put it under your pillow—it isn’t of immediate importance—! I’m just thinking of you—
It isn’t possible to tell you, when I am there, the ways I am thinking of you, because I don’t want to seem emotional—which indeed these thoughts are not. The radiance that you are to me, and which I hold close to me these lonely nights, is truly not not for myself alone—but for the rich creative meaning that you give to all the world that you touch. It is like what is, in a small way, in the Monet picture—part of yet beyond the subtlety of color and design there is something that informed the whole and gives it magic. In how much greater a degree that thing is in you! That is why you must fight with all your power for the sake of this power—whatever it is—that is life—because for others it is informed and lighted by such as you.
Because I believe this, I am able to believe in life. Sometimes I think I have told you too much only of my personal “love”—But that is because you have given me, as a woman, what no other could; as you know. That might be enough of ecstasy for a lifetime. But you are so much more to me. How shall I say it? There is no way to say it. But you bring the magical meaning that transforms the whole.
Milton Glaser to Shirley Glaser; October 6, 1986 and October 6, 1996
Milton Glaser married his wife, Shirley, in 1956. For her birthday, he gave her hand-illustrated cards.
October 6, 1986:
For my love Shirley,
With all my thanks for your companionship and love for another year.
Fannie and Mimi
October 6, 1996:
Happy Birthday Darling Shirley. Light of my life.
For more handwritten goodness, head here to read 12 more letters from famous people.