The Design classification includes all of Bertoia’s wearable and functional objects and their associated studies. Although fewer in number than sculptures or two-dimensional works, these objects were integral to his aesthetic philosophies and material techniques. From 1937 to 1943, Bertoia studied and taught at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a newly founded school that encouraged artists to approach art and craft with rigor, but also had no set curriculum. There, Bertoia began a lifelong interest in working with metal. He created many pieces of hollowware and jewelry in the span of a few years, developing elements that would become foundational to his sculptural work. Cranbrook also offered the chance to collaborate with an extraordinary group of colleagues. Working alongside designers and architects, including Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, Bertoia helped produce models and prototypes, as well as participated in key exchanges in the burgeoning movement of modern American design. After Cranbrook, Bertoia worked at the Eames Office and the U.S. Navy Electronic Laboratory in California. These positions furthered Bertoia’s design work, as he contributed to a range of projects, including experiments with molded plywood, production of airplane parts, and graphic design for scientific studies.
In 1950, Bertoia received an invitation from Hans and Florence Knoll, also Cranbrook colleagues, to work for their eponymous furniture and design company. Knoll established a metalworking studio and model shop for Bertoia in Bally, Pennsylvania, placing very few restrictions on the artist’s work for the company. The Knolls simply asked that when Bertoia arrived at something “interesting” he would show them. The result of this creative latitude was the Harry Bertoia Collection, which includes the iconic Diamond and Side Chairs. Defined by sinuously-shaped grids of steel wire, the chairs have been in continuous production since they were introduced in 1952. Bertoia only worked for Knoll from 1950 to 1952, and thereafter produced few design objects apart from a limited number of jewelry pieces. His attention shifted primarily to sculpture, but his roots in design continued to inform his creative practice as he defined it, with “space, form, and the characteristics of metal.”
Catalogue entries for Bertoia’s furniture are limited to prototypes produced by Bertoia himself and the original designs accepted for production by Knoll. The dates listed for each of these furniture designs correspond to the year it was first produced by Knoll, with the exception of the Asymmetric Chaise, which the company did not put into production until 2005, even though it was part of the original wire chair collection. Given that the Bertoia Collection has been in near constant production since the early 1950s, many aspects to the specifics of fabrication and materials used have been changed. Specifications are limited to configurations as they existed at the time of initial production or during Bertoia’s lifetime.