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Harry Bertoia (1915–1978) stands out as one of the most prolific and inventive figures of 20th century art and design. Born Arieto Bertoia, he moved with his father from Italy to Detroit in 1930 where he attended a technical high school followed by the Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts, where he studied metalwork and drafting. In 1937 Bertoia earned a scholarship to the esteemed Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he continued his education in metal working, sculpture, and graphics, including lithography, woodcuts, and monotypes — his favored technique. Bertoia came into contact with a rich community of architects and designers at Cranbrook, including figures such as Walter Gropius, Maija Grotell, Carl Milles, and Eliel Saarinen, whose streamlined modernist forms proved influential to the young designer.

The works being presented at auction display the elegant, pared-back aesthetic for which Bertoia is renowned. The graceful swirls of Series IV (1945) curve languorously across the darkened pages and hover between abstraction and representation, perhaps suggesting cosmic constellations. For Bertoia, the monotype served as “a way of learning…a way of finding truth (...) I draw what I don’t know in order to learn something about it.” Each monotype was produced as a single imprint and Bertoia was known to often execute these works with his eyes closed in order to create a drawing “from within.”

Bertoia’s facility with his craft is evident in the five sculptures. In particular, the intricately massed stems of Bush (c. 1975) testify to his welding and form–making skills. Along with the dandelion, the bush was one of Bertoia’s preferred motifs and recurred throughout his work. Made from copper and brass, Untitled (Sonambient) (c. 1965) and Untitled (Sonambient) (c. 1972) comprise a series of slender metal stems fixed into a metal base. These pieces are part of a larger body of ‘sounding’ sculptures made by Bertoia in the 1960s and 1970s, consisting of vertical rods in various configurations that produce sound. These innovative works attest to Bertoia’s playful approach and continued experimentation even in the latter stages of his career.


Bertoia, Val, and Nancy Schiffer. The World of Bertoia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2003. Print.