Harry Bertoia

United States

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Born in 1915, Harry Bertoia was an Italian-born American artist, sound art sculptor and modern furniture designer. His name has become synonymous with functional chairs and his combination of sculptural artistry with functionalist designs that characterise modernist furniture.

Harry Bertoia's Education

Having studied at Cass Technical High School (where he learnt how to make handmade jewelry), Harry Bertoia then attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit as well as the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he first discovered the likes of Walter Gropius, Edward N. Bacon and Ray and Charles Eames.

Harry Bertoia's Early Career

He opened his first metal workshop in 1939, teaching metal work and jewelry design before moving to California to work for Charles & Ray Eames at the Evans Product Company. In 1950, he moved to Pennsylvania to set up a studio with Hans and Florence Knoll, where he designed five pieces that established his reputation and became known as the Bertoia Collection for Knoll. These design classics sold so well that Harry Bertoia was able to focus on sculpture, and was a fellow at the Graham Foundation in Chicago. The most famous of the collection for Knoll included the Diamond Chair which was a fluid form made from a molded lattice work of welded steel. They were handmade because there wasn't a suitable mass production process, and underwent a few changes due to a patent issue with Herman Miller. Harry Bertoia said of his own collection: 'If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them.' All his designs encompassed this concept - of beauty, space, air and sculpture - regardless of whether it be an art installation or a range of furnishings.

Harry Bertoia's Sculptures

By stretching and bending materials, Harry Bertoia would experiment with creating sound and produced a series of ten albums, called Sonambient, which were rediscovered in the 1990s by his daughter. He was also commissioned to design the Marshall University fountain in West Virginia as a tribute to the university's football team after they were killed in a plane crash. Bertoia also designed sculptures for the Gordon Bunshaft building, now occupied by J.P. Morgan Chase in New York City - who removed and dismantled the sculpture in 2010. Other notable sculptures include the 'Golden sun' which was commissioned in 1967 for an auditorium in Michigan, and consists of 675 gold-plated stainless steel branches. He died in 1978 of lung cancer, and was survived by his wife and three children.