Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia was born in Italy, however, like many of his colleagues, ended up living in Michigan and studying at Cranbrook's Academy of Art. Having excelled in jewelry making and design, Bertoia was given a scholarship to attend Cranbrook, where he met Ray Kaiser (Eames), Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Florence Schust (Knoll), and Walter Gropius. After teaching at Cranbrook, Bertoia worked for Ray and Charles Eames at the Evans Products manufacturing company, where early examples of Eames plywood furniture was just emerging. In 1950, Bertoia was invited by Florence and Hans Knoll to come work as a designer with them in Pennsylvania and to design some production furniture pieces. He was given a space to prototype and work. This time in Pennsylvania led to the birth of the Bertoia wire collection, including side chairs and the diamond chair. Upholstery of varying scales and functions was designed for each of these pieces as well, helping to hide or expose the wire framework accordingly. The chairs were very successful and thanks to Florence Knoll's advocacy for designers, Bertoia received appropriate compensation for his work. The chairs were such a success that he was able to devote his life and work exclusively to sculpture from the mid 1950s forward. During this time, he worked on a number of public sculpture projects and also produced the Sonambient sculptures, which are highly sought after today. Thanks to some of the connections formed at Knoll and Cranbrook, many of the designers remained friends for decades onward. The studio of George Nakashima and now Mira maintains a small collection of Bertoia sculptures. Similarly, Eero Saarinen chose to collaborate with Bertoia in creating a sculpture for the MIT Chapel that Saarinen designed. Today, Harry's son Val is producing sculptural work to carry on his father's legacy. The iconic chairs are still being produced by Knoll.

Somewhat different from the work Florence Knoll, Ray and Charles Eames, and Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia had designed a more limited collection of furniture pieces, which has generally remained in production with only subtle changes over the close to seven decades since. While some older Bertoia chairs do suffer from small breaks in the wire much like the Eames wire chairs (often they will need to be spot welded again), the furniture often remains pleasantly intact. Vintage examples can be powder coated for greater protection and sandblasted if they need the original finish to be stripped. The upholstery on older Bertoia pieces is often torn or in need of replacing, as decades-old foam has a tendency to become crunchy and eventually turn to dust. Knoll's brand new Bertoia pieces are also made with the same quality and attention to detail as the originals, arguably with improved or longer lasting finishes. The vintage slatted Bertoia benches are somewhat rare and shockingly heavy. They use thicker gauge metal on the legs than the chair's seats and slatted oak in many cases for the bench seat. Early Bertoia child-size chairs are also very collectible and unique. There were multiple sizes produced, which tend to pair well with the Noguchi cyclone child's/side table. The Asymmetric lounge by Bertoia was designed earlier in his life, though was not produced until 2005.




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