The late industrial designer and sculptor Harry Bertoia was the ultimate creative polymath, the quintessential designer-craftsman. The Italian-born, Pennsylvania-based artist designed a collection of iconic wire chairs for Knoll, completed over 50 public sculptures, created intricate jewelry pieces (including Ray Eames' wedding ring), and even dabbed in experimental sound art. Last week, in honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth, Bertoia's former employer, Knoll, and his alma mater, the Cranbook Academy of Art, opened exhibitions and events devoted to his many achievements.
Working with wire, metal, plywood, the designer used the line as his muse. His most celebrated furniture design is probably the sculptural diamond chair, which he designed from wire for Knoll in 1952, but Bertoia also played an integral part in the design for the now-classic Eames chair.
He spent three years experimenting with plywood and working with the Eameses in Los Angeles, and was devastated when Charles Eames took most of the credit for the resulting chair. However, the $20,000 payment that Bertoia received from Knoll for his own very successful chair design, the diamond chair, allowed him to spend the next few years working on major sculpture commissions.
Bertoia excelled at "bringing a line alive," says Glenn Adamson, the director of New York's Museum of Arts And Design. "He only had one or two ideas, but they were powerful ideas. Josef Albers had color, for Eames it was the compound curve, Jonathan Ive is all about corners. For Bertoia, it was the idea of the line and variation across mediums."
· Harry Bertoia Centennial Celebration [Knoll]
· Marcel Breuer, Robert Venturi, and More Insiders On the History of Knoll [Curbed National]
· All Furniture posts [Curbed National]