Harry Bertoia 1915-1978

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Italian artist and furniture designer, Harry Bertoia, was thirty-seven years old when he designed the patented Diamond chair for Knoll in 1952. An unusually beautiful piece of furniture, it was strong yet delicate in appearance, and an immediate commercial success in spite of being made almost entirely by hand. With the Diamond chair, Bertoia created an icon of modern design and introduced a new material, industrial wire mesh to the world of furniture design.

Bertoia's career began in the 1930.s as a student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where he re-established the metal-working studio and, as head of that department, taught from 1939 until 1943 when it was closed due to wartime restrictions on materials. During the war, Bertoia moved to Venice, California, and worked with Charles and Ray Eames at the Evans Products Company, developing new techniques for molding plywood.

1946 was a pivotal year for Bertoia. He became an American citizen, moved to Bally, Pennsylvania, near the Knoll factory and established his own design and sculpting studio where he produced numerous successful designs for Knoll. As a sculptor, Bertoia created abstract freestanding metal works, some of which resonated with sound when touched or had moving elements that chimed in the wind.

As a furniture designer, Bertoia is best known for the Diamond chair and the Bird chair, a high-backed model developed from the Diamond chair that looks like a bird with spread wings. Its organic, human-friendly form helped to create a new look for modernism. Bertoia received awards from the American Institute of Architects in 1973 and the American Academy of Letters in 1975. All of his work bears the hallmarks of a highly skilled and imaginative sculptor, as well as an inventive designer, deeply engaged with the relationship between form and space.

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