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Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia (1915 – 1978) was an Italian-born American artist, sound art sculptor, and modern furniture designer.

At the age of 15 he traveled from Italy to Detroit to visit his older brother, however he chose to stay and enrolled in Cass Technical High School, where he studied art and design and learned the art of handmade jewelry making. In 1938 he attended the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, now known as the College for Creative Studies. The following year in 1937 he received a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where he encountered Walter Gropius, Edmund N. Bacon and Ray and Charles Eames for the first time.

Harry Bertoia began to teach there in 1939, establishing a workshop for metalwork. Material shortages during the second world war forced the Cranbrook Academy to close its doors in 1943. At Cranbrook, Harry Bertoia met Charles Eames. In 1943 Harry Bertoia went to California, where he worked briefly with Charles and Ray Eames for the Evans Product Company, designing furniture made of bent laminated wood. In 1943 Harry Bertoia also showed jewelry of his own design in New York. In 1946 Harry Bertoia became an American citizen.

In the 1940s Harry Bertoia concentrated entirely on furniture-making; in 1950 he founded a business of his own in Bally, Pennsylvania. That same year, 1950, saw the beginning of Harry Bertoia's collaboration with Florence and Hans Knoll, whose acquaintance he had also made at Cranbrook Academy. Harry Bertoia's first chair design for Knoll, the "Model 420 Diamond" (1950-1952), featuring moulded mesh of chromium-plated steel wire, was an immediate bestseller.

Harry Bertoia earned enough royalties from it to be able to devote himself almost exclusively to sculpture from then on. Harry Bertoia made free-standing metal objects and metal sound sculptures. The original "Diamond" chair of moulded and welded steel wire is still being manufactured and marketed by Knoll. Nowadays slightly modified variants are also sold, such as the "Model 421" with a seat cushion but otherwise the model has remained unchanged.

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