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1957

  • Work on this object began.

2011

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2019

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Small Diamond Chair, ca. 1957

This is a Chair. It was designed by Harry Bertoia. It is dated ca. 1957 and we acquired it in 2011. Its medium is bent plastic-coated metal wire, woven cotton upholstery, foam rubber. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

Primarily known as a sculptor, Harry Bertoia came to the United States in 1930. From 1939–43, he studied and taught metalwork and jewelry at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he met Cranbrook alumni, including Charles and Ray Eames and Florence Knoll (née Schust). By 1950, Bertoia was based in California, where he created art and sometimes worked with Charles Eames.
In 1950, Florence and Hans Knoll, interested in developing new furniture lines, invited Bertoia to move east and work for Knoll Associates with an unconventional arrangement: they would provide a salary and a studio near the Knoll factory in Pennsylvania, but would not make specific demands on Bertoia’s time or creativity. The Knolls allowed Bertoia the freedom to create metal sculpture and work in wire by hand, using simple tools. Within two years, he conceived a series of side chairs and lounge chairs for mass production made of wire mesh formed into seating shells. “My feeling was that it had to come almost from an inward direction. I began to rely once more on my own body. I began to think in terms of what I would like as a chair.”[1] Although Knoll tried mechanical fabrication, it was easier to produce the forms by hand in a multi-weld jig developed by the company to secure all of the separate wires into a form, allowing the chair to be manufactured.
Among the series is the Small Diamond chair, which was introduced in 1952 and has since become an iconic modern design. Its shaped wire mesh shell sits on a wire base and, despite being made of a hard cold substance, the form invites and envelopes the sitter and is softened by a simple seat cushion—or full upholstery, as in this example.
Bertoia said of his wire forms, “The chairs are studies in space, form and metal too. If you will look at them you will find that they are mostly made of air, just like sculpture. Space passes right through them.”[2] After designing the chairs, Bertoia returned to making sculpture, some with moving parts, to pursue his interest in the relationship between sound and movement.
The chair proposed for acquisition is distinguished by its coated wire frame and blue Prestini upholstery, a cotton plain weave Knoll named for the textile designer, Antoinette Lackner Webster (Toni Prestini). This chair would join the museum’s group of Knoll chairs, which includes a Large Diamond chair covered in grey wool upholstery on a polished steel frame.
[1] Nancy Schiffer and Val O. Bertoia, The World of Bertoia (Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2003), 37.
[2] Schiffer and Bertoia, 47.

It is credited Gift of the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture.

  • Vermelha Chair, 2007
  • bent epoxy-coated steel, hand woven dyed cotton rope, aluminum.
  • Gift of Edra SpA, Italy.
  • 2007-39-1

Our curators have highlighted 7 objects that are related to this one. Here are three of them, selected at random:

  • Diamond Chair, 1952
  • chrome-plated tubular steel, woven wool upholstery.
  • Gift of Knoll International.
  • 1990-139-6

Its dimensions are

H x W x D: 77.5 x 88.9 x 74.9 cm (30 1/2 in. x 35 in. x 29 1/2 in.)

Cite this object as

Small Diamond Chair, ca. 1957; Designed by Harry Bertoia (American, b. Italy, 1915 - 1978); USA; bent plastic-coated metal wire, woven cotton upholstery, foam rubber; H x W x D: 77.5 x 88.9 x 74.9 cm (30 1/2 in. x 35 in. x 29 1/2 in.); Gift of the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture; 2011-22-1

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Making Design.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18790049/ |title=Small Diamond Chair, ca. 1957 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=24 April 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>