Born 1915, San Lorenzo, Italy
Practised in America
Studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art
Harry Bertoia was born into extreme poverty in a barn in San Lorenzo, near Pordenone, Italy, in 1915.
At the age of 15, Harry had the choice to move to America or remain in drought-ridden Italy. Harry decided to adventure abroad with his father, where they travelled to Canada and then on to Michigan, where Harry’s brother lived.
Harry’s father returned to Italy and was killed in WWII. Harry learned to speak English and was admitted to Cass Technical High School in 1930, where he studied art and design. There, he pursued his interests in drawing, painting, and metals.
In 1936, he received a scholarship to attend the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, now known as the College for Creative Studies. In 1937, he received a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he first encountered Florence Knoll, Charles and Ray Eames, and Walter Gropius.
He taught jewellery design and metalsmithing at Cranbrook from 1939 until 1943.
In 1943, he married Brigitta Valentiner and moved to California where he worked for Charles and Ray Eames at the Molded Plywood Division of the Evans Product Company.
In 1946, he moved to Pennsylvania to work for Hans and Florence Knoll (Florence studied with him at Cranbrook). There, he designed five wire pieces that became known as the Bertoia Collection. Among these were his famous Diamond chair, a fluid, sculptural form made from a welded latticework of steel, which was an immediate commercial success. Of the Bertoia collection, he said: “If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them.”
Harry Bertoia’s work is in museums all around America.
He died of lung cancer on November 6, 1978.
He was 63 years old.