The Continuing Influence of Harry Bertoia
May 13, 2013 9:15:35 AM
Few designers have had the lasting impact on modern furniture design that Harry Bertoia has had. Born in Italy in 1915, Bertoia moved to the United States at the age of 15 to study art. Principally interested in sculptural works using metal, Bertoia went on to study at the Detroit Society for Arts and Crafts, and, later, the Cranbrook Academy of Art. While at Cranbrook, Bertoia met and eventually partnered with the likes of Walter Gropius, himself a master of modern furniture design and founder of the Bauhaus School, Charles and Ray Eames, who also made great contributions to modern furniture design and architecture, and Edmund N. Bacon, who went on to become a renowned architect. After a stint with jewelry making during World War II, Bertoia moved to California to work for the Evans Product Company, where he was principally hired to illustrate training manuals. While at Evans, however, he began experimenting, along with the Eameses, with plywood, eventually developing molded plywood splints that would eventually be frequently used in modern furniture design. In 1950 Bertoia, preferring to get back to working with metal, moved to Pennsylvania to work with Hans and Florence Knoll, designing several pieces for their furniture company. It was during this time that Bertoia designed his most iconic piece, the diamond-shaped wire chair. This masterpiece of modern furniture design remains a classic in its simplicity, yet stunningly modern and innovative. Essentially a diamond-shaped steel wire grid, the metal is raised on steel legs and is molded and padded to provide a comfortable seat. With a single, thick wire to frame the diamond and smooth out its rougher edges, Bertoia’s diamond chair remains popular even six decades later and has spawned countless copies and spin-offs. Modern furniture stores such as EZ Mod Furniture sell not only the diamond chair, but at least three “Bertoia-style” wire chairs in varying colors and shapes, and even have child-sized versions available. Most Bertoia “Diamond” chairs are still made by hand as effective mass production methods have proved difficult to find. Bertoia’s modern furniture designs were so popular and sold so well that he was soon able to devote himself to sculptural work full time. His sculptures can still be seen, and in some cases heard, in art museums in Brooklyn, Cleveland and Philadelphia and even the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Bertoia also experimented with metal sculpture that made sounds, a concept similar to wind chimes, which he called “Sounding Sculpture.” With an undeniable artistry and mastery of metals, Harry Bertoia’s contributions to modern furniture design and art cannot and will not be forgotten. His designs, especially the diamond chairs, remain a popular and stylish choice for many people looking to furnish and decorate their homes or offices. Written by Emily G. Repost by Janette Alvarez
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