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. 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.
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 his sculptures can be found in a number of well known museums, corporations, educational institutions, and private collections. His sound sculptures especially both fascinate and attract numbers of ardent art patrons and collectors. Bertoia died in Pennsylvania in 1978. The Harry Bertoia Research Project continues his legacy. Yet it is the sound of his sculptures that will live on in the memories of his followers and supporters.
Bertoia’s Bush sculptures, created in the ‘60s and ‘70s, are some of his most desirable and coveted works, the largest of which have brought sales prices of over half a million at auction. They are constructed from metal rods of varying lengths radiating from a central point, capped by “leaves” that lend to an overall appearance of rotund, naturalistic fullness. This mid-size bush demonstrates Bertoia’s growing mastery of the shape, and is exceptional in the density of its “branches,” which emanate from two central “trunks.” The branches terminate in small horizontal punctuations placed within a larger circular pattern, conforming to an organic yet symmetrical order. As a result, this bush retains a solidity and sturdiness of form while still allowing for an element of transparency. At their core, Bertoia’s bushes illustrate his examination of the relationship between space and structure. Nature, as this piece illustrates, was his strongest influence. He would often place his works outside in order to give them a weathered appearance; he felt that they, unlike real plants, had a permanence that nature lacked.
Val Bertoia, the artist’s son
Private Collection, PA, acquired directly from the above
Nancy N. Schiffer & Val O. Bertoia, The World of Bertoia, Atglen: Schiffer, 2003, ill. p. 115