Day 336/365 of Steel – Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia (March 10, 1915 – November 6, 1978) was an Italian-born American artist, sound art sculptor, and modern furniture designer. In 1936 he attended the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. The following year, he received a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where he encountered Walter Gropius, Edmund N. Bacon, Ray and Charles Eames, and Florence Knoll for the first time.

Bertoia’s brass, copper, and nickel screen was installed in the Dallas Public Library in 1955.
Fig 1: Bertoia’s brass, copper, and nickel screen was installed in the Dallas Public Library in 1955. Photo: Courtesy of the Bertoia Estate

In 1943 he moved to California to work for Charles and Ray at the Molded Plywood Division of the Evans Product Company. Bertoia also learned welding techniques at Santa Monica College and began experimenting with sound sculptures. In 1950, he was invited to work with Hans and Florence Knoll. During this period he designed five wire pieces that became known as the Bertoia Collection for Knoll.

Diamond Chair

Harry Bertoia 'BIG DIAMOND' Chair For Knoll International, USA 1960
Fig 1: Harry Bertoia ‘BIG DIAMOND’ Chair For Knoll International, USA 1960

Among these was the famous diamond chair, a fluid, sculptural form made from a welded lattice work of steel. In Bertoia’s own words, “If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them.” With regard to his relationship with metal in his designs, he once said: “You go through these emotions – joy, suffering, happiness, sorrow – and if you happen to have a bit of metal in your hands – you just shape it.”

In the mid-1950s, the chairs being produced by Knoll sold so well that the lump sum payment arrangement from Knoll allowed Bertoia to devote himself exclusively to sculpture. He ultimately produced over 50 commissioned public sculptures, many of which remain viewable.

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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