Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)

Italian sculptor, designer and printmaker, born San Lorenzo, Udine; active in the United States.


In 1930, Bertoia traveled to Detroit to visit his brother. Instead of returning to Italy as he had planned, he remained in Michigan and enrolled in a technical high school for artistically gifted students. Eventually, he earned a scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy to study drawing and painting. Upon graduating in 1939, Eliel Saarinen, then director of the academy, invited Bertoia to join the faculty and re-open the defunct metal workshop. Bertoia remained at Cranbrook until 1943, teaching, and designing jewelry and household objects. A tea service he designed during this period remains in Cranbrooks permanent collection.

Following his teaching career, Bertoia moved to California to work with Charles and Ray Eames at the Evans Products Company, where Charles Eames worked as Director of Research and Development. There, they experimented with molded plywood technology in the service of the war effort. After Eames began to implement Bertoias innovations without crediting him, Bertoia left. He worked briefly for the Point Loma Naval Electrical Lab in San Diego, where he began to sculpt in metal during his free time. He never titled or signed his work, preferring instead to let his viewers approach it without preconceptions.

In 1950, Bertoia received an exciting invitation from Hans and Florence Knoll to work as a designer for their famous firm. Bertoia and his family relocated to Pennsylvania. By 1952, Bertoia had designed the famous "Diamond" seating collection, which included a lounge chair, stool, side chair, and a small chair for children. Constructed of industrial metal wire, the chair is remarkably strong despite its delicate appearance. Prized equally as a work of sculpture, it is still in production today and remains an icon of 20th century design.

Until his death in 1978, Bertoia was mainly active as a sculptor. Many of his sculptures are designed to move in the wind, some even to create sounds. He completed over 50 public sculptures in his lifetime, most notably for the chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. He was awarded the 1955 Fine Arts Medal, the 1956 AIA Craftsmanship Award, the 1968 Critics Award, and the 1973 AIA Gold Medal.

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