Harry Bertoia (1915 – 1978), born in Italy in 1915, was a resident of Barto, Pennsylvania where he created his well-known sonambient or tonal sounding sculptures and designed furniture for Knoll, Inc.
His early studies at the Cranbrook Academy of art were in printmaking and metalworking, which informed his work throughout his career. Drawing, too, was an important part of the artist’s creative process, and many of his compositions clearly articulate his planning and experimentation with ideas for sculptures. In 1950, at the invitation of the Knoll furniture design company, he moved to eastern Pennsylvania and designed, among other pieces, the Bertoia Diamond Chair series, which became part of the modern furniture movement.
The sonambient, or tonal, is the sculpture that is most often associated with Harry Bertoia. Their sizes vary from a few inches up to 19 feet. Steel, copper, and brass were the common metals used for the rods, which are capped with cylinders or drops of metal. These features, by their weight, influence the swaying of the tonal rods and the tenor of sound they emit.
Bertoia’s home and studio, including a barn space installation of 75 tonals of varying heights, is maintained by his son, artist Val Bertoia, who occasionally arranges musical performances. Album recordings made by Harry Bertoia will be included in the installation so that a visitor will leave with a sensory as well as aesthetic experience.
Bertoia also explored jewelry making, crafting organic forms of silver and copper. Many of these one of a kind pieces were exhibited through the Nierendorf Gallery in New York which also supported the artist with a stipend so that he could continue his printwork and jewelry.
From 1953 to 1978 Harry Bertoia created over 50 large public commissions, engaged by such architects as Eero Saarinen, Henry Dreyfuss, Roche & Dinkeloo, Minoru Yamasaki, Edward Durell Stone & I M Pei. He was awarded the AIA Craftsmanship Award in 1956 and the Critic’s Award in 1968.
Monoprints and jewelry, on loan from the Harry Bertoia Estate, furniture, and tonal and static sculptures borrowed from several public and private collections will comprise the installation. Lenders include the Reading Public Museum, Knoll, Inc., the Woodmere Art Museum, and the Philip & Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College.