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Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)

Harry Bertoia was an Italian-born artist and modern furniture designer born March 10, 1915 in San Lorenzo, Pordenone, Italy. Bertoia traveled from Italy to Detroit to visit his older brother at the age of 15, where he decided to stay and enrolled in Cass Technical High School studying art and design and learning the art of handmade jewelry making. Harry Bertoia opened his own metal workshop in 1939 where he taught jewelry design and metal work. Bertoia began focusing hie efforts on jewelry making and even designed the wedding rings for Charles and Ray Eames.

In 1943, Bertoia married Brigitta Valentiner, and moved to California to work with Charles and Ray Eames. Bertoia and Eero Saarinen developed a method for making molded plywood splints that would later evolve into processes for furniture design. Bertoia remained as part of their staff, working on a variety of projects. Three years later Bertoia split with the Eames because Bertoia preferred to working with metal rather than wood and was also concerned that his work was not receiving enough credit.

In 1950, Bertoia moved to Pennsylvannia to work with Hans and Florence Knoll. Over the next few year, Bertoia designed five wire pieces that became known as the Bertoia Collection for Knoll. Bertoia is best known for the Diamond chair that he created for Knoll in 1952. In Bertoia’s own words, "If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them." Unfortunately, the chair resembled an Eames chair so much that Eames'distributor Herman Miller took Knoll to court on the grounds that they were taking wrongful credit for a bent-wire technique owned by the Eames. Herman Miller eventually won the case and granted Knoll a license to produce the chairs, but knowing that Harry Bertoia and the Eames worked closely for so long, the "genealogy" of inspiration seems difficult and maybe even unnecessary to pin down.

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