Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)
The multi-talented designer and sculptor Harry Bertoia came to America from Italy in 1930. He studied at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he later established the metalworking department and where he began making organically formed jewelry in silver and copper.
Bertoia moved to Venice, California in 1943 where he worked with designer Charles Eames. During this time, he continued making jewelry, as well as monotypes and began his first experiments with metal sculpture. He also began exhibiting and selling his jewelry. Many of these one of a kind pieces were exhibited through the Nierendorf Gallery in New York which also supported the artist with a stipend so that he could continue his printwork and jewelry.
In 1949, Bertoia moved to Barto, Pennsylvania where he joined Hans Knoll at Knoll Associates. His iconic wire furniture collection (including the Bertoia Barstool, Diamond Chair, Bird Ottoman, Bikini chair), introduced in 1952, is recognized worldwide as one of the great achievements of 20th century furniture design. By the mid-50's Bertoia’s work for Knoll sold so well, that he was able to negotiate a lump sum deal and resign to concentrate on his sculpture.
From 1953 to 1978 Harry Bertoia created over 50 large public commissions, engaged by such architects as Eero Saarinen, Henry Dreyfuss, Roche & Dinkeloo, Minoru Yamasaki, Edward Durell Stone & I M Pei. He was awarded the AIA Craftsmanship Award in 1956 and the Critic's Award in 1968.
The sculptural work that he produced on his own ranges from his verdigris copper bushed to thin strand wire brushes. The sculpture that is most often associated with Harry Bertoia are the rod forms resembling modernist cat tail reeds, called “tonals”. Tonals vary in size from a few inches up to 19 feet. Steel, copper, and brass are the metals commonly used for the rods, which are capped with cylinders or drops of metal. These features, by their weight, influence the swaying of the tonal rods and the tenor of sound they emit.
Bertoia's home and studio included a barn space installation of 75 tonals of varying heights.He performed with the pieces in a number of concerts and produced a series of albums entitled Sonambient.
Bertoia’s work is highly collectible in the market. It can be found in public collections including the Brooklyn Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Nasher Sculpture Center the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Walker Art Center.