Dandelions and Deck Chairs: Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia (American, b. Italy, 1915–1978), Dandelion, 1970. Gold-plated bronze and beryllium. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley M1975.131. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells. © 2010 Estate of Harry Bertoia / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Harry Bertoia (American, b. Italy, 1915–1978), Dandelion, 1970. Gold-plated bronze and beryllium. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley M1975.131. Photo credit: P. Richard Eells. © 2010 Estate of Harry Bertoia / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Now that it’s finally starting to feel like summer, let’s talk about dandelions. Sure, they’re technically weeds, and you probably don’t want them taking over your lawn. But it’s fun to make wishes on the white puffy ones, even if it does scatter seeds and just increases the dandelion population exponentially.

This dandelion, however, won’t scatter seeds if you wish on it because it’s made of gold-plated bronze and beryllium. It was created by Italian-born American artist Harry Bertoia, who didn’t just make sculptures but also crafted monoprints, furniture and jewelry. His Sonambient Sculptures were designed to make music and he saw his furniture as just another type of sculpture because, as he put it, “space passes right through them.”

Harry Bertoia (American, b. Italy, 1915–1978), Tonal, ca. 1967. Cupro nickel and monel metal. Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley M1975.133. Photo credit: John R. Glembin. © 2010 Estate of Harry Bertoia / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Harry Bertoia (American, b. Italy, 1915–1978), Tonal, ca. 1967. Cupro nickel and monel metal. Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley M1975.133. Photo credit: John R. Glembin. © 2010 Estate of Harry Bertoia / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Dandelion exemplifies his creativity with sculpture and metalwork. His arguably most famous work is the Bertoia chair, which you’ve probably seen, and maybe even sat in, before. They’re pretty popular, probably because of their aesthetic and comfort. And some models can even go outside.

Bertoia worked and entered competitions with Charles Eames, and aided in design of the well-known Eames chair, but claims he was never given credit, which caused him and his wife Brigitta to work instead with Florence Schust Knoll and her husband, Hans, in Pennsylvania. Initially, Bertoia was to design hospital furniture, but stated her “preferred to work with healthy bodies.” He crafted the Bertoia chairs in metal first, and also designed their means of mass production.

Not all of Bertoia’s chairs look alike. And the same is true of his sculpture with even more diversity of medium, style and even size. Besides Dandelion, the Milwaukee Art Museum has in its collection four sculptures by Bertoia: Tonal (at right), Flowering, Geometric Forms, and Untitled, as well as a “Diamond” Chair.

– Margaret Crocker, Curatorial Intern

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One Response to Dandelions and Deck Chairs: Harry Bertoia

  1. Very nice and also accurate. Note that a dandelion such as yours has about 70,000 individual pieces of wire. Each and every wire originally had to be cleaned by spinning it on the drill press and then wiping it down with a rag. They are indeed a sight to see; go visit the museum! More at harrybertoia dot org

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