The perfect balance—literally—between art and furniture. Sculptor Isamu Noguchi created his distinctive table by joining a curved, solid wood base with a freeform glass top. The ethereal result does not diminish the practical design—a sturdy and durable table. This marriage of sculptural form and everyday function has made the Noguchi table an understated and beautiful element in homes and offices since its introduction in 1948.
Anyone can make a three-legged table. That challenge, thrown down to Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi by a designer he believed had "borrowed" an idea of his, was what led to the design of his classic table.
Noguchi tells the story in his autobiography. "My first industrial design was, I suppose, some Italian sugar cake molds that I did when I was 20. Then there was 'Measured Time', a clock, and in 1937 the 'Radio Nurse.'"
Manufactured by Zenith in 1937, the Radio Nurse was a wireless intercom introduced as a baby monitor in response to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. During World War II, and after the kidnapping furor had died down, most of these pieces were thrown away—because of the Japanese name inscribed on them. A rare surviving example of this beautiful piece was featured on The Antiques Roadshow.
"I went to Hawaii in 1939 to do an advertisement (with Georgia O'Keefe). As a result of this, I had met (T.H.) Robsjohn-Gibbings, the furniture designer, who had asked me to do a coffee table for him," Noguchi remembered. "I designed a small model in plastic and heard no further before I went west."
- Noguchi believed the sculptor's task was to shape space, to give it order and meaning, and that art should "disappear," or be as one with its surroundings. Unwilling and unable to be pigeonholed, he created works that could be as abstract as Henri Moore's and as realistic as Leonardo's. He used any medium he could get his hands on: stone, metal, wood, clay, bone, paper, or a mixture of any or all—carving, casting, cutting, pounding, chiseling, or dynamiting away as each form took shape.
"To limit yourself to a particular style may make you an expert of that particular viewpoint or school, but I do not wish to belong to any school," he said. "I am always learning, always discovering."
By "went west" Noguchi was referring to his internment, as a Japanese-American, in the Poston, Arizona, concentration camp during World War II. During his time there, Noguchi said he was surprised to see a variation of the small plastic model table he had done for Robsjohn-Gibbings published as an advertisement for the English designer.
"When, on my return, I remonstrated, he said anybody could make a three-legged table," said Noguchi. "In revenge, I made my own variant of my own table."