Producing some of the most influential modern furniture designs and modern sculptural pieces in landscape architecture, Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles to Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer. While his parents never married or remained living together, when Léonie brought Isamu to Japan, he was properly given the name “Isamu” which means courage. In 1912, with his half-sister born, the mother decided to build a house that Isamu was given charge of, designing the garden and learning carpentry skills.
At the age of fourteen, he was sent back to the U.S. to attend school living with Dr. Edward Rumley throughout high school. Known as Sam Gilmour during this time, he wanted to pursue a career as an artist but Rumley thought him better suited to be a doctor. While his first exposure to working as a sculptor did not progress as hoped and he briefly considered a career in the medical field, others around him influenced him including his mother who encouraged him to follow his love of art. Taking night classes at the Leonard da Vinci Art School, he found acceptance of his talent and particularly his portrait busts whose commissions helped him financially.
Receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship, he traveled to Paris to study stone and wood cutting. There he met Constantin Brancusi who greatly influenced him and took him in as an assistant for seven months. Staying longer than intended as Asia was to be a part of his travels as well, he returned to New York in 1929. During this time he continued to create bust portraits studying various art mediums around the world.
While initially rejected for large public work art pieces through the Public Works of Art program, he produced Relief Seen from the Sky through the Federal Art Project. Traveling to Mexico, he signed a 20 meter mural entitled History as Seen from Mexico in 1936.
Returning to the U.S., with mixed success in his public art works, he survived through the anti-Japanese sentiment during the war to eventually end up in New York. Designing sculptural interlocking slabs using mixed media , the best known ‘Kouros’ in 1946, he befriended Herman Miller whose company produced an icon of modern furniture, the Noguchi table known for its ingenius use of materials and connections. Knoll, a furniture manufacturer also produced additional pieces of Isamu’s furniture as well as lamps.
By this time he was sought after for public art pieces as well as producing set design for Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. Winning many awards near the end of his life, he died in 1988 at 84 years old well known as a prolific sculptor.