|Harry Bertoia was a furniture and jewelry designer, graphic artist, sculptor and
architect. He was born in San Lorenzo, Udine, Italy on March 10, 1915. Bertoia emigrated
to the United States in 1930. First he went to Canada with his father and then to
Michigan, in the United States. Bertoia's father returned to Italy shortly after the move
to Michigan and was killed in W.W.II. After some difficulty learning the English language
Bertoia was admitted to Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan. There he
participated in a program with gifted students from 1932 to 1936. Bertoia followed his
childhood interest in drawing and painting. He received his first metals training at Cass
as well. Bertoia also received a scholarship that enabled his to attend the School of
Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts for one year (1936) to study drawing and painting. He
was awarded another scholarship in 1937 for the work he executed at Cass to attend
Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Bloomfield, Michigan. He went to Cranbrook from 1937 to 1939.
At Cranbrook he concentrated on drawing and monoprints. In 1939 Bertoia was asked to
revive the metalsmithing department that had been neglected since Arthur Neville Kirk left
in 1936. Represented by the Nierendorf Gallery in New York City, Bertoia sold at least
thirty-four prints while he was still a student at Cranbrook. He established a studio and
taught jewelry and metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1939 to 1943.
While at Cranbrook Bertoia met his future wife, Brigitta Valentiner. They were wed in
1943. Soon after their marriage the couple moved to California at the request of a mutual
friend, Charles Eames. Bertoia collaborated with Eames on the design for what would become
the most famous Eames chair produced by Knoll Associates, later known as Knoll
International. While in California Bertoia worked at two defense plants during the war. At
the first plant he designed experimental glider parts in a factory near Los Angeles where
Eames was the Director of Research. He also worked with Eames developing plywood
techniques in the manufacture of splints, and the like, for military medical services. He
used this technology for furniture production. At the second plant, Pointe Loma
Electronics Laboratory, he created graphics for training manuals and human movement
studies. After working in California until 1949, Bertoia moved to Pennsylvania and
established a studio in Bally with the support of Knoll International. The Bertoia chair
was introduced by Knoll in 1952. Bertoia joined the Knoll staff, but worked independently
in his studio at home on his designs. Bertoia completed a line of chairs in 1952 and
remained a consultant to Knoll International for twenty-six years.
Bertoia was the recipient of the Fine Arts Medal in 1955, and Craftsmanship Medal in 1956
from the American Institute of Architects, Pennsylvania Chapter. In 1973 he was awarded a
Gold Medal from the same institution. Muhlenburg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania
awarded Bertoia with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in 1971. His work was exhibited
extensively since 1940.
His later artwork incorporated sound into steel sculptures. Bertoia experimented greatly
with patinas and methods of casting to gain different surface textures. He also
experimented with steel alloys to gain more control over the sound his work would produce.
In addition to the alloy, Bertoia manipulated the shape, length and density of the forms
to achieve the sound he desired. Movement caused by wind and touch create musical sounds
with Bertoia's sculptures. He continued to make these sculptures until his death. He even
produced a limited edition of small Sounding Sculpture and a record, Sonambient. He also
held concerts with these pieces.
Harry Bertoia died on November 6, 1978. He made a reputation for himself in every field he
entered. Bertoia did not produce jewelry or hollowware after 1950 and is not considered a
traditional metalsmith, but his work is deeply involved in the essence of metals.