Harry Bertoia American, 1915-1978


Harry Bertoia was born on March 10, 1915 in San Lorenzo, Italy. He immigrated to the United States in 1930 and enrolled in Cass Technical High School. There he studied art and design, eventually learning a trade in designing jewelry. He went on to study at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and then to Cranbrook Academy of Art where he met Walter Gropius, Edmund Bacon, and Ray and Charles Eames. During his time at Cranbrook, he sent prints to the Guggenheim for evaluation. The aquistions director then proceeded to purchase all 100 prints, 19 of which would be featured in the next exhibition. Karl Nierendorf of Nierendorf Gallery in New York supported Harry after the exhibtion with a stipend and the logistics to produce gallery shows for his prints and jewelry.  In 1939 Bertoia opened a metal workshop where he taught metalwork and jewelry design. In 1950 he moved to Pennsylvania where he established a studio and began to work with Hans and Florence Knoll, the iconic furniture designers. Bertoia designed a number of chairs for the Knolls known as the Bertoia Collection. In the mid 1950’s he turned his attention solely to sculpture. By 1956, he would go on to show for decades with the Fairweather Hardin Gallery of Chicago and Staempfli Gallery in New York.


In the 1960’s Bertoia embarked upon creating his sound or “Sonambient” or “tonal” sculptures which would be one of the most important innovations in the realm of sculpture in the 20th century. It is believed that Bertoia had an “epiphany” when he struck a metal rod while working with it and was taken with the sound it produced.  It is important to note that Bertoia’s focus was on working with various alloys and metals to develop certain tonalities and that the air and space around these works was important in his thought process.  Today, Betroia’s works are in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Hishorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others. His sound sculptures especially both fascinate and attract numbers of ardent art patrons and collectors. Bertoia died in Pennsylvania in 1978. The Harry Bertoia Foundation continues his legacy. Yet it is the sound of his sculptures that will live on in the memories of his followers and supporters.

Solo Exhibitions

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (1943)

Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut (1974)

Art Institute of Chicago (1975)

Muhlenberg College's Martin Art Gallery, Allentown, Pennsylvania (1975)

Museums and Public Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts

Art Institute of Chicago   

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.

Ball State Museum of Art, Indiana   

Brooklyn Museum, New York City   

Brooklyn Museum/Luce Center for American Art, New York City

Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio

Dulles International Airport

Federal Reserve Bank Building, Richmond, Virginia, 1958

Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa

Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri

Massachusetts Institute of technology Chapel, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1955

Middlebury College Museum of Art, Vermont  

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh 

Palm Springs Desert Museum, California  

Philadelphia Civic Center, Pennsylvania 

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Princeton University, New Jersey

Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

Standard Oil Building, Chicago

State Department Building, Washington, D.C., 1956

Vero Beach Museum of Art, Florida

Yale University, Davies Auditorium, New Haven, 1958

Walker Art Center, Minnesota

Wichita Art Museum, Kansas   

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