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  • Literature

    Nancy N. Schiffer and Val O. Bertoia, The World of Bertoia, Atglen, 2003, pp. 168-170 for similar examples

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Take wire. Add poetry,” stated a 1950s Knoll advertisement for Harry Bertoia’s chairs, among that firm’s most popular offerings. Designer, sculptor, graphic artist, jewelry maker, Bertoia fit the definition of a polymath. Born into a family of music lovers (his father worked in the theatre, his brother composed), Bertoia from an early age devoted himself to art: he drew accomplished portraits at eleven; at fifteen he enrolled in drafting classes in San Lorenzo, his birthplace in northern Italy. Years later, on an application to the renowned Cranbrook Academy, Bertoia wrote: “I can use any tool or machinery with dexterity.”¹ Although a painting major, he refused to confine himself to canvas.
     
    After the 1950s, Bertoia never returned to furniture production but concentrated instead on unique abstract constructions in steel, brass, bronze, copper, and nickel alloys. For the next quarter century he welded, cast and bundled a menagerie of forms including screens, panels, flowers, cones, spills, trees, and bushes, among others. Abstracted from their legs, the seats of his chairs now read as early sculptural experiments. Although fundamental to his output, they represent a stopover in his “long quest to seek and sometimes find a form, a structure, a sound or a way.”
     
    That statement affirms Bertoia’s earnest desire for grand truths, for understanding, for music, and for movement. Working one day in 1959, he snapped a standing rod in error. It struck another—the way forward was clear as a bell. “For a number of years I had realized that sculpture had existed in silence through time…I thought: ‘Why is sound left outside?’” From the late 1950s, outward from the closed geometry of his chairs and dense panels, Bertoia opened his forms to air: thin lines of copper rods danced and rang; bundled wires twisted out like fans or ‘wept’ as willows, inspired no doubt by the vast tree waving beside his pond in Bally, Pennsylvania. Bertoia stated in 1976, “At this eternal moment, I have a gut feeling that awareness of the miracle of life is the purpose of life.”
     
     
    ¹All citations: Nancy N. Schiffer and Val O. Bertoia, The World of Bertoia, Atglen, PA, 2003

 

140

‘Willow’ sculpture

c. 1970
Stainless steel wire, stainless steel.
165 cm. (65 in.) high

Estimate
£35,000 - 45,000 Ω

Sold for £43,250

Design

28 April 2010
London