Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia was born in Italy in 1915. At the age of 15, Bertoia traveled to Detroit to visit his brother, and decided to stay in Detroit to study. After high school, the sculptor, university lecturer and furniture designer was educated at Detroit School of Arts and Crafts and Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he later taught metal crafts.

Harry Bertoia opened his own metal workshop in 1939 where he later focused on jewelry design. In 1943, Bertoia married Brigitta Valentiner and the two moved to California. While there, he worked for Charles and Ray Eames at the Molded Plywood Division of the Evans Product Company.

In 1950, the Bertoias moved to Pennsylvania, where Harry established his studio and began work with Hans and Florence Knoll. He designed five wire furniture pieces for Knoll, which are now known as the Bertoia Collection. Among his pieces of work for Knoll was his famous Diamond Chair, made of molded lattice and welded steel, which was patented in 1952.

Following his work for Knoll, Harry Bertoia devoted himself to sculpture, and was a fellow at the Graham Foundation in Chicago in 1957. Through his sculpting, Bertoia explored the ways metal could be manipulated to produce sound. Knoll stretched and bent metal to form an instrument responding to wind and touch, which he used to produce a series of ten albums called “Sonambient.”

Other design and sculpture works by Bertoia include: the Marshall University fountain in West Virginia, honoring the university’s football team killed in a plane crash in 1970 and a seven-foot in diameter sculpture made of 675 gold-plated stainless steel branches called “Golden Sun,” which hands in the lobby of The Whiting in Flint, Michigan. Bertoia was also commissioned by Eero Saarinen to design a metal sculptured screen for the General Motors Technical Center in Detroit.

Awards given Bertoia include the craftsmanship medal from the American Institute of Architects and AIA’s Gold Medal. Bertoia, who also a father and grandfather, died in 1978.