by Val Bertoia
The name Harry Bertoia is very attractive in the art-market because of the vast amount of energy that man put into fine and refined monoprints, jewelry, table-sculptures and monumental outdoor metal sculptures.
In the beginning, it used to be Val Bertoia from Harry's and Brigitta Bertoia point of view. Now there's a balance to the trade.
I spent 29 years learning about Harry Bertoia. He was like so many different people to me: a loving father providing more than I needed, a counselor in difficult times, a financial advisor, an employer allowing me free time after each vigorous workday during the 1970s.
Society tends to put labels on people so that we can communicate feelings and thoughts verbally. In school days, this was a great advantage in getting through with excuses. In the art world, verbal communication becomes disappointing because it lacks so much of the deep expressive feelings that artists reveal otherwise.
I began to understand my father, Harry Bertoia, by gaining a clear awareness of life's reality levels. For example, after making a phenomenal masterpiece in bronze, something that no one else in the world could possibly duplicate, Harry would say to the observer, "What do YOU think it is?"
Harry would purposely not sign or title his artworks because they were part of the universe that God designed, and he would have little or no influence on another person's imagination. One cannot teach art, per se; we can only provide facilities, tools, and methods.
Sadly enough, Harry's voice, (which was for many years, the most resounding and wonderful male singing voice that I've ever heard) faded out and became only a whisper. There were years of yelling to "...GET THE JOB DONE RIGHT THE FIRST TIME." The art-profession is satisfying to me, and society's response is not. It was Harry's input-energies that made his sculptures great enough to radiate endless amounts of enjoyment and encouragement for living life.
His input-energies, of course, were positive extensions of natural forms, textures, colors, miracles. What Nature could do in small living forms, such as the growing of dandelions, shrubs, grasses, Harry would magnify in metals for the observer to be surprised with shimmering beauty that may have been overlooked in (Nature's) small scale. On the other end of the human scale, what we see as clouds, ocean-waves, or erupting volcanoes, Harry would capture glimpses of these miracles in metals to show that we are god-like in our abilities to observe.
So his idea of metal clouds consisted on many, many rods, each coated with molten brass by hand to give lustrous and tactile qualities not found in milled extrusions. Building up large nets of these rods brazed together to give an effect of multi-layered space and time. Why was Harry doing this?
Don't ask; just do it. He was on a self-expressive trend that was defined by Nature Herself. What Nature did not do, Harry did, as a human extension of Nature. The human trend of this man (or let's say Super man) was to bring together every way possible in metals, all aspects of human existence. Starting with simple energy-drawings of the 1940s, a mental vision made possible for others to see what Harry saw in his dreams. Now-a-days, one could imaging making videos directly from dreams, a technology that does not yet exist.
From the drawings, it was quite clear to Harry that these could be made into 3-D sculptures by forming metal outward from the page. We can say that the man was totally ingenious, or simply combining logic with creativity (use of both brains spherically in a spiraling time-period of human history). The basic line drawings evolved into basic rod sculptures. The "Bertoia Chair" of the 1950s was designed by a sculptor, not a furniture designer. The chairs Harry designed were definitely sculptures that contained the human (physical) body comfortably above the floor.
The chair, then, is a 3-D line sculpture. Art historians are sometimes too concerned about the placement and categorizing of artworks within time-periods. The most contentful part of Harry Bertoia's profession is the timelessness and universal-placement appropriateness. Why categorize?
We moved the Wests' property near Bally, Pa. in 1952 when Harry was designing the chair for Knoll. Do you see what I've done? I have answered the question, "Why categorize?" by giving a statement that categorizes Harry in time and place. There are 2 disadvantages here to categorizing: One is that we lose the spontaneity of undefined creativity, and the other is that the definition may be incorrect.
I can say from my childhood that Lesta (my delightful sister from California) and I used to play in the hay-barn there in Pa. This was a memory from my days as a boy. Harry set up an asbestos platform on the south side of the barn to weld up his delicate metal sculptures, as a technically advanced version of his toothpick sculptures from his boyhood days in Italy. Being on the south side, Harry fully enjoyed working with the sun's energies of warmth and light, so he made various colored panels in leaf-like positions to reflect changing colors from panel to panel. It was fascinating!
I now have a new observation, a renovated barn, ...and a new perspective, metal sounding-sculptures instead of hay inside the barn. Being with Harry (Dad) for decades gave me the perspective of seeing a growing pattern in his work. By the 1960s, he worked alot with flowing water, welding up copper tubing with bronze to form organic-like shapes with water flowing over and around. This may have been a positive influence of homelife and great inspiration from the pond.
The growing pattern seemed to be toward the total expression of man. Because his typical material was metal, he expressed man from physical form (chair-shape holding the physical body comfortably since the 1950s), to spiritual form (sounds from "tonals" of the 1970s). Every type of sculpture and artwork Harry made in between these two forms, led up to the total expression of man through metals.
His priority later was in sound. The renovating of the barn, the accumulating of over 100 sound-sculptures that he and I made in the 1970s, the recording of over 360 "Sonambient®" sessions within this sound-laboratory, all came together as the most phenomenal metallic expression of man this human-world has known.
I believe it was Harry's intent to always have the mystery contained within his sculptures as part of our living universe, and to question why humans are part of it all. It was Harry's intent to enjoy the vast amount of true wealth this planet has for us all, by way of plants, animals, environments of Nature and man-made expressions in metals movements, and sounds.
May love, light, and laughter be with us.