Harry Bertoia – Italian Furniture Designer

Posted on 3rd August 2011 in Furniture Designers, Italian Designers

Born in San Lorenzo, Italy in 1915, he showed promise as having exceptional design talent even as a child. He remained there until he was 15 when he left to move to Detroit with his father. At the age of 22, he won a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. This academy was attracting many famous artists and designers during this time. Among them who befriended him was Charles and Ray Eames, Walter Gropius and Eliel Saarinen, director of the art community at the academy.

Asked by Saarinen to take over the department of metalworking, this is where he concentrated his design efforts on jewelry making. This time provided him with the beginnings of his future work in sculptural forms and his prolific execution of monoprints. With his increasing interest in sculptural forms, he left Michigan to collaborate with Charles Eames in California to work with molded plywood. Other modern furniture designers of this same time were also working with these same materials and methods as well.

While he successfully found a way for the Eames/Saarinen Cranbrook chair to be placed in production, with no credit provided to him for his accomplishment, he decided to move on and eventually settled in Pennsylvania. Here he began his work designing chairs for the Knoll furniture company. Appreciators of contemporary furniture, they provided him free rein to design as he pleased proving him full credit for his designs.

He did his work in a shop in Bally that still remains until today, maintained and used by his family.  Working with molded plywood is what he did while working with Charles Eames, here he went back to his day of metalworking and began exploring the use of welded wire as a both a design and structural support element. His brief time spent previously at the Point Loma New Atomics Laboratory exploring ergonomics and body dynamics helped inform his practical knowledge of designing modern furniture that was comfortable and well suited to the human form.

Airy and light, these wire chairs appear to be too delicate to hold the human body. They were extremely popular and the Knoll furniture company eventually bought the rights to his chairs outright.

Intrigued by the properties of the wire, later in his life he worked with his brother to create sonambient sculpture; tonal wire sculptures that produced musical sounds. Used as sculptural elements, particularly famous was the dandelion form where several were placed around the Fair Kodak building at the 1964 New York’s World Fair.






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