Harry Bertoia featured image
Harry Bertoia featured image

Harry Bertoia (1915 – 1978) was a sculptor, printmaker, jeweller, and furniture designer from Italy. He was born in San Lorenzo, Udine, and worked in the United States professionally.

When Harry Bertoia was 15, he was given the choice of staying in drought-stricken Italy or moving to Detroit to live with his older brother, Oreste. 

Education

After learning English and the bus schedule, he enrolled in Cass Technical High School, where he studied art and design and learned the skill of handmade jewelry making ca.1930-1936.

He enrolled in the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts Art School, now known as the College for Creative Studies, in 1936. He won a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art the following year, 1937, where he met Walter Gropius, Edmund N. Bacon, Ray, Charles Eames, and Florence Knoll for the first time.

Biography

Between 1939 and 1943, he taught jewellery and metalworking at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he also owned a metalwork store. He made jewellery as well as functional metal items. 

Ray and Charles Eames

Between 1943 and 1946, he worked at Eames’ Evans Products in Venice, California, with Charles and Ray Eames. Through the Evans company, he collaborated with the Eames on moulded-plywood technology and aeroplane and medical equipment for the war effort. He worked with the Eameses at Plyform Products Company in Venice, California, in the late 1940s. Bertoia left Eames’ workshop in 1950 to become a designer for Knoll after Eames used Bertoia’s pioneering metal-basketwork seat design without acknowledging its source. 

Works

Bertoia crafted his famous Diamond Chair collection for Knoll, which put it into production in 1952—53, using the metal-wire basketwork technique. A pivoting lounge chair, a small lounge chair, a lounge chair with a back extension and footstool, a side chair for adults, and two sizes for children were all part of the collection. He worked primarily as a sculptor from the mid-1950s onwards, creating metal parts that moved with the wind and were often crafted to create percussive sounds. Bertoia’s sculpture was prominently featured in many of Eero Saarinen’s buildings, including the chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1953 to 1955 and the Dulles International Airport in Virginia from 1958 to 1963.

Recognition

He was awarded the Fine Arts Medal in 1955, the Craftsmanship Medal in 1956, the Graham Foundation Grant for European travel in 1957, the AIA Fine Arts Medal in 1963, and the AIA Gold Medal in 1973.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The Design Encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

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