Inspiring Icon / Harry Bertoia

Inspiring Icon / Harry Bertoia

By Studio Marcus Hay
Inspiring Icon / Harry Bertoia

Here at SMH, Inc we have always been in love with Harry Bertoia's iconic Diamond Chair. They are quite simply beautiful pieces of sculpture in their own right. That was what Harry Bertoia was all about! A sculptor at heart. 

Bertoia was born in 1915, in the small village of San Lorenzo, Friuli, Italy until age 15. He and his father went to Detroit, USA. Bertoia stayed in Michigan to attend Cass Technical School, a public school with a special program for talented students in arts and sciences. Later, a one-year scholarship to the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts allowed him to study painting and drawing.Harry Bertoia opened his own metal workshop at Cranbrook where he taught jewelry design and metal work.

In 1946 he moved to California to help fellow Cranbrook alumnus Charles Eames develop methods of laminating and bending plywood. His contribution to that process of developing the Eames famous chairs was extremely valuable but often not recognized as well as it should have been. After that period he spent 2 years in San Diego where he worked on a project involving human engineering, This is where he began making metal sculptures after hours.In 1950, at the invitation of Hans and Florence Knoll of Knoll, Inc. Harry moved to eastern Pennsylvania with his growing family. 

The Bertoia Diamond chair series was introduced in 1952 by Knoll. Bertoia also designed all the jigs for the production of the items. Harry set up shop in Bally in an old leaky garage building. The chair became part of the "modern" furniture movement of the 1950s. In the span of a couple of years, Bertoia completed several chair designs for Knoll. 

In 1960, Harry Bertoia started the exploration of tonal sculptures. The "tonal", or sounding sculpture, is the art that is most often associated with Harry Bertoia. Their sizes vary from a few inches all the way up to 20 plus feet. Harry loved music and spent endless hours experimenting and finding new sounds to incorporate into Sonambient, the auditory and visual environment created by the tonals.Bertoia spent the next 25 years of his life experimenting with light, sound and volume through sculptures, paintings and architectural installations. 

All images are credited where possible, Most courtesy of Knoll. These layouts are for inspirational purposes on this blog only. Let us know if further credit is needed.

Left: Diamond chair in yellow with cover, Right: Harry in his studio

Harry in his studio with one of his famous sound sculptures 

Left: Willow sound sculpture, 1970, Right; Detail of sculpture

Courtesy of Knoll, Harry Bertoia posters 

Left: Cornet Sculpture, 1964, Image courtesy of Sotherbys, Right: The famous Diamond chairs for Knoll

Left: Image courtesy of Knoll, Right: Sculpture 

Right: Sculpture, Left: On display in Knoll showroom, 1950's


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