Harry Bertoia

ITALY (1915–1978)

Italian artist and furniture designer Harry Bertoia was 37 years old when he designed the patented Diamond Chair for Knoll in 1952. An unusually beautiful piece of furniture, it was strong yet delicate in appearance, as well as an immediate commercial success in spite of being made almost entirely by hand. With the Diamond Chair, Bertoia created an icon of modern design and introduced a new material to the world of furniture design: industrial wire mesh.


Bertoia’s career began in the 1930s as a student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he re-established the metalworking studio and, as head of that department, taught from 1939 until 1943, when it was closed due to wartime restrictions on materials. During the war, Bertoia moved to Venice, California, and worked with Charles and Ray Eames at the Evans Products Company, developing new techniques for molding plywood.


In 1946, a pivotal year for Bertoia, he became an American citizen, moved to Bally, Pennsylvania, near the Knoll factory, and established his own design and sculpting studio, where he produced numerous successful designs for Knoll. As a sculptor, Bertoia created abstract freestanding metal works, some of which resonated with sound when touched or had moving elements that chimed in the wind.


Among his many honors, Bertoia received awards from the American Institute of Architects in 1973 and the American Academy of Letters in 1975. All of his work bears the hallmarks of a highly skilled and imaginative sculptor, as well as an inventive designer, deeply engaged with the relationship between form and space.


Artist photo from 1000 Chairs courtesy of Taschen.

The sound of Bertoia. Harry Bertoia’s passion for tonal wire sculptures began when he was bending a heavy wire and it came in contact with another, resulting in a wonderful sound. If two wires sounded fabulous, he knew that he had to hear what six or even six dozen would sound like, thus his quest began. Bertoia’s tall wire sculptures were not only beautiful works of art but also vehicles to transport you to a place of “Sonambient,” his term for the spatial and tonal environment they created. Bertoia made hundreds of these pieces, which ranged in height from six inches to 20 feet, and he never made the same piece twice. In the late 1960s, he repurposed an old stone barn on his Pennsylvania property to use as a recording studio. Between 1968 and 1978, he recorded roughly 360 magnetic-tape recordings and 11 vinyl LP albums that are now available on CD at bertoiastudio.com. “The haunting yet soothing music is most timely now in this time of turmoil,” says Bertoia’s daughter Celia. Bertoia’s son Val continues his father’s tradition of sound sculptures today.


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