With Italian origins, Harry Bertoia (1915-1978) emigrated to the United States at fifteen and enrolled in the Cass Technical High School and then the Society of Arts and Crafts art school, in Detroit. In 1937, he received a scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, and two years later, became director of the metalworking workshop. His teaching approach was based on experimentation; and his courses would help shape the careers of many key 20th-century designers. During this period, his work focused on the biomorphic design of jewellery, whose abstract forms were inspired by plants, insects, bones and microscopic organisms.
In 1944, due to the outbreak of the war and the scarcity of metal, the workshop closed, and Bertoia moved to Southern California, where he joined Charles and Ray Eames (whom he had met at Cranbrook) in developing new methods of laminating and bending plywood. His contribution was fundamental for the iconic DCM and LCM chairs, although not explicitly recognised at the time. Florence Knoll, one of his students at Cranbrook, and her husband, Hans, convinced him to move to Pennsylvania to work on his sculptures in a workshop near the Knoll factory.
Free to experiment and express his creativity, in 1952 Bertoia designed a line of welded metal chairs for Knoll, inspired by the soldering he had previously experimented with in his jewellery design. The iconic Diamond chair was an immediate success and gave Bertoia the financial independence he needed to devote himself to his art. Although he only designed that furniture series, Bertoia continued to collaborate with Knoll, creating sculptures and architectural installations. He also conceived an altar for the MIT Chapel by Eero Saarinen. Bertoia spent the next 25 years of his life experimenting with light, sound and volume through sculpture, painting and architectural installations. Today Knoll carries on Harry Bertoia's legacy in the 'Bertoia Collection' whose production has been uninterrupted since the 1950s.
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