Harry Bertoia

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Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia is an innovative designer that created interesting sculptures and furniture throughout the middle of the 20th century, paving the way for the modern movement.

Born in Italy in 1915, Bertoia made his way to America at the age of 15 to visit his brother. He stayed in Michigan, with his brother, to attend the Cass Technical High School, which specialized in talented arts. From there, Bertoia went on to study at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts on a one-year scholarship. In 1937, Bertoia earned another scholarship, this time to the Cranbrook Academy of the Arts, directed by Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero Saarinen.

At Cranbrook, Harry studied with Eero Saarinen, Florence Shust (Knoll), and Charles Eames. After two years of studying, Harry was asked by Eliel Saarinen to lead the metalworking department at Cranbrook. As World War II progressed, the metal supply dwindled and Harry turned to jewelry-making, which required far less amounts of metal. Bertoia made jewelry for his classmates, including wedding rings for Charles and Ray Eames. Simultaneously, he worked on unique prints, called monoprints, which were displayed at the Guggenheim Foundation in 1943.

Later on in 1943, Harry Bertoia headed to California to work with Charles Eames. Harry was a big part in determining the process for the molded plywood chair that Eames is still known for today. Bertoia also assisted Eames in creating airplane parts at Evans Co., where Eames headed Research & Development. Frustrated at the lack of credit attributed to his discoveries, Bertoia left Eames and went to San Diego to work in engineering. In his spare time, Harry continuously worked on monoprints and sculptures.

After two years in San Diego, Bertoia received an invitation from Florence Knoll, a classmate from Cranbrook, to join her and her husband at their furniture design company, Knoll Inc., in Pennsylvania. The Knolls assured Bertoia that he would have the freedom to create whatever sculptures and furniture he desired, and that he would rightfully receive the credit for whatever he designed. By 1952, Harry introduced the Diamond Chair, which led to an entire series of chairs offered by Knoll. As promised, Bertoia received full credit and sufficient compensation.

From furniture, Harry Bertoia moved on to architectural sculptures. In 1953 and 1955, he designed sculptures for the General Motors Technical Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Chapel. Up until his death in 1978, Bertoia continued creating various sculptures for events and locations all around the world.

Check out Inmod’s collection of modern chairs inspired by Harry Bertoia.

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