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Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia

*  1915 San Lorenzo
† 1978 Bally/USA

Harry Bertoia was born in Udine, Italy, in 1915. When he was fifteen years old, the family emigrated to the US. In 1932 Harry Bertoia was given a scholarship to Cass Technical High School in Detroit, where he studied painting and sculpture until 1936. Subsequently Harry Bertoia was awarded another scholarship, enabling him to study until 1939 at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a design school founded by Eliel Saarinen in 1932. In 1939 Harry Bertoia began to teach at Cranbrook Academy and established a metalworking workshop, which, however, was forced to shut down in 1943 due to the wartime shortage of materials. The designers Harry Bertoia met at Cranbrook Academy included Charles Eames as well as Florence and Hans Knoll. In 1943 Harry Bertoia went to California, where he worked briefly with Charles and Ray Eames developing a process for manufacturing furniture of bent laminated wood. In 1943 Harry Bertoia also showed jewelry of his own design in New York, a field he would not pursue further. From 1940 Harry Bertoia concentrated on furniture-making. In 1950 Harry Bertoia set up a design business in Bally, Pennsylvania. That same year, 1950, saw Harry Bertoia collaborating with Florence and Hans Knoll, who made and marketed furniture. The chromium-plated steel wire "Model 420 Diamond" chair (1950-1952) was the first chair Harry Bertoia designed for Knoll. It was such a hit and sold so well that Harry Bertoia could live on the royalties from it. In future he would even afford to devote himself entirely to sculpture. As a sculptor Harry Bertoia made free-standing metal objects and metal sound sculptures. The "Diamond" chair of moulded and welded steel wire is still being made and marketed by Knoll today. There are variations on the basic model but the original design has not changed much; in essentials it is what it has always been.