Monday, October 26, 2009

The Art and Furniture of Harry Bertoia!

After a couple of weeks of focusing on contemporary furniture and interior designers we go back again to the classics, this time with the great Mid-Century furniture designer Harry Bertoia, who along with creating a few extremely important iconic chairs was also a creative and prolific sculptor, painter and artist.

Bertoia’s most famous piece is probably his Diamond Chair (pictured above). Designed for the famous furniture manufacturing company Knoll, the Diamond Chairs feature a geometrically diamond shaped back made out of a grid of thin, welded chromed steel rods. The magic of the Diamond Chair is its ability to seem lightweight and ethereal even though it takes up a large swath of space in terms of size. It’s a focal point sometimes, and yet can blend seamlessly and even invisibly when needed. A few of his other pieces have similar characteristics like his Child’s Chair, Bird Chair and ottoman and Asymmetric Chaise, all for Knoll. What also made his furniture pieces so fun is their ability to be changed with removable cushions, some simple and some wildly patterned or textural.

What is perhaps the most interesting thing about Bertoia is the fact that he never set out to be a design-world changing furniture maker. Born in Italy, he traveled to the US when he was 15 to visit his brother living in Detroit and never left! He did much of his schooling in the U.S. including the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (now known as the College for Creative Studies) and the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he came into contact with such luminaries as Walter Gropius, Edmund N. Bacon and Ray and Charles Eames.

Bertoia started his creative career in jewelry making, opening a studio in 1939 teaching jewelry making and metal work, going on to work on projects like Charles and Ray Eames' wedding rings and eventually working on all sorts of projects with them, like airplane and medical equipment and early work with molded plywood furniture. In 1950 he moved to Pennsylvania and began a lucrative relationship with the Knoll company, producing his now well-known wire furniture, of which he describes best himself “If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them."

His Knoll furniture sold so well, that he gave up furniture design for sculptural work, going on to have a successful and important career in the field of metal sculpture, experimenting with what he called sound sculpture, sculptural pieces that created sound when interacting with wind and other elements. And though he may have not produced any more furniture as successful as his work with Knoll, his important contributions had already been made to the design world, and his chairs continue to be sought after even today!

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