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Friday Focus - Knoll Bertoia Diamond Chair

The life of Harry Bertoia followed a perfect 20th Century arc. Born into a poor rural Italian family in 1915, famine forced him to migrate to the United States at the age of just fifteen. In doing so he not only avoided the war but also the worst excesses of Mussolini's Italy. Instead he found himself thrust into an environment that allowed his skills with metal and sculpture to flourish. Soon, he was thrust into the sphere of influence of the great iconic American designers Florence Knoll, Walter Gropius and Charles and Ray Eames.

He worked for the Eames' until 1950, when he joined Florence Knoll to work at her eponymous furniture making business. The war had deprived him of the chance to work extensively in metal, but he embraced the opportunities that opened up to him as the scarcity of the material started to ease, creating a series of new products for Knoll including the instantly recognisable Diamond Chair. Remarkably, these were initially made by hand but were soon automated when demand exceeded the capacity of artisans to produce them in sufficient numbers.
Bertoia's love of sculpture is evident in the fluid lattice work of the chair. "If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture," he said of his most famous design. "Space passes right through them."

His words echo those of the composer Claude Debussy who once stated that "music is the space between the notes". So it's perhaps unsurprising that Bertoia used the money he earned from his now internationally successful designs to look at the confluence of music and sculpture, notably a range of what he called Sonambient sculptures which consisted of vertical steel rods which are now exhibited in museums around the world.

While his sculptures are accessible to everybody, we remain most likely to encounter his work in the form of the Diamond chair, a work of art in its own right. As Knoll now claim, "Bertoia found sublime grace in an industrial material, elevating it beyond its normal utility into a work of art."

To find out more about the Knoll Bertoia Diamond Chair please click here.
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