Harry Bertoia

Born 1915. Died 1978.
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Harry Bertoia Biography

Italian-born American sculptor Harry Bertoia is best known for his innovations in the field of sound art as well as for his quintessentially modern furniture. After moving from San Lorenzo, Italy, to Detroit in 1930 at the age of 15, he attended the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts for one year. He then received a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he learned from the work of Walter Gropius and Edmund Bacon, who both were interested in the intersection of fine art and design. Bertoia became the head of the metals department and led the jewelry workshop.

At Cranbrook Charles and Ray Eames were impressed by Bertoia’s metal work, and at their request, he joined them in California at the Molded Plywood Division at the Evans Product Company in the early 1940s. In 1950, he produced the Bertoia Collection for Florence Knoll, a group of five wire pieces for which Bertoia is famed. The sculptor used the material of these objects to guide their aesthetic qualities. His steel wire Diamond Chair from the collection launched his commercial success; it resembles a functional sculpture, with an open structure that highlights the steel itself and the negative space it creates. From the mid-1950s on, Bertoia’s commercial success freed him experiment with sound sculpture. He created over 50 public sculpture commissions, many of which explore the tactile and auditory effects of materials within the spaces and environments they occupy.

Bertoia’s works are included in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; and the Art Institute of Chicago. His public commissions appear at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology chapel, Cambridge; the State Department Building, Washington, D.C.; and the Federal Reserve Bank Building in Richmond, Virginia, among many other public and influential spaces. His sculptures and objects sell for ever-increasing prices. Recently, his Untitled, Monumental Bush, sold at Sotheby’s for $519,000 in 2018. He died of lung cancer in 1978 at the age of 63.

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