New York City & Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Having not been to New York City for many years, I was mildly apprehensive about two main issues. Would I be able to find my way around on public transportation, and would my smart phone be stolen?
Eleanor, my able aide, had given me valuable tips on surviving the city:
- Buy the metro card, week-long unlimited version, check.
- Put your back against a building when perusing your phone with an iron grip, check.
- The minute you feel lost on the subway, get off and get out and consult Google maps, check.
- Street meat is fine, especially from the Halal Guys, check.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes and expect to walk a lot, check.
- Stash your cash and only have a small amount in grab-able spots, check.
- Uphill is uptown and higher street numbers are uptown, check.
- If you must ask for help, look sweet and smile, check.
- Uber is OK and taxis do not indicate that you’ve given up on the subway, check.
Remarkably, I only sort-of got lost two times and figured it out quickly.
I did indeed walk miles per day, and feasted at Halal food trucks more than once. I never lost my smart phone and was insanely grateful for Google maps. Friends who had enjoyed life in New York told me that the subways are easy. I would not go so far as to describe subway travel to a neophyte as easy, but with vigilant focus and lots of planning I found my way.
By the end of the week I must have exuded confidence because people starting asking me for directions!
And even more bizarrely, I was able to help them.
What New York does have is museums, galleries, impressively huge buildings and gobs of culture. I visited more of each in one week than I have in Montana for two decades.
Meetings with several museum directors and gallery owners imparted so much valuable information about Bertoia’s standing in the world and how the art world works. I did not previously realize that, for some museums, the quality of the art is secondary and the amount of the donation that comes with it is of primary importance.
Yes, most know of Bertoia’s excellent work, but many are uninterested until an exhibition becomes easy. Meaning that ideally there are many Bertoia works owned and willing to be lent under one roof, whether that be another museum or a wealthy collector or the Foundation.
Why not have an overdue Bertoia retrospective exhibition in New York City? The answer heard several times was that it is too difficult to find enough sculptures from so many different sources, plus they want a big fat sponsor to cover all the costs.
Nevertheless, Bertoia is appreciated and we might see Cranbrook’s Bent, Cast and Forged: The Jewelry of Harry Bertoia visit New York.
It’s too early to give any details, but the possibility is there!
The Wright Manhattan showroom is a great space next to three other impressive galleries and well-visited. The day I dropped by, they had just sold an 8’ tonal for $341,000, perhaps a record for that size.
Lost City Arts is alive and well with numerous, stunning Bertoias including a dandelion (already sold) and one of the Standard Oil sculptures and a gorgeous bush.
Leah Gordon Antiques has a few Bertoia items of jewelry and a very lovely little bush.
Knoll New York (Manhattan office) put me up in style at the Warwick Hotel, where 50s and 60s movie stars were prone to stay.
Some of the East Greenville Knoll gals along with several of the Manhattan Knoll women took me out to a delicious Italian meal.
Small Town Roots
One of the East Greenville employees, Carol Connell, went to the same high school as me and we’ve known each other ever since! She married my first boyfriend — oh, the intricacies of growing up in a small town. We had a heartfelt dinner and spoke of the lasting relationship between Knoll and Bertoia. We are both happy to have the other. I can give their sales people great family stories and they can sponsor my events. It works well. I love Knoll. They love me.
The Knoll event on May 18th began with breakfast burritos and coffee, followed by announcements and my lecture. Due to tight time constraints I only spoke for about 30 minutes but the designers and clients present were delighted to hear of the history of Bertoia and Knoll.
Hans and Florence Knoll always treated Harry Bertoia with respect and friendship and gave him full credit for all of his designs. The 3’ tall panel sculpture that is often seen pictured with Hans Knoll was on view at the breakfast — a real treat for all of us.
Several Knoll folks, as well as designers, purchased limited edition jewelry afterwards, pleased to be able to wear a little piece of “Harry.”
In honor of Harry’s centennial celebration, Knoll has produced a limited edition of a gold-plated Diamond chair. It is absolutely stunning.
Gold & Diamonds
The price is twice as much as the regular Diamond chairs, but it is completely cool.
The gold gives it an elegant flair that would raise the level of any living room décor.
I want one!
The Bertoia chairs are manufactured in Verona, not far from Venice.
Another added feature at the breakfast party was the short film (mentioned in my previous story about my southern California tour) made by Knoll Europe of the production process in Verona. There were only a few captioned words, no spoken explanations, along with some upbeat music.
The process of making the wire chairs is a beautiful one to watch. The efficiency and attention that goes into each chair is evident in the robotic handling but especially in the final welds and cleaning by human employees.
If anyone ever wondered why it is important to purchase the brand name of a designer piece of furniture, this video demonstrates it clearly. And then to see hundreds of piled Bertoia chairs awaiting the next step — it had several of the Knoll employees, as well as me, literally in tears!
The power of design inspires people to do their best work Knoll uses modern design to connect people to their work…www.knoll.com
It was touching to see the process and realize what an effect my father had on the furniture world.
After the festivities, a few helpers and I met in a back room where I signed 100 copies of my recently released book, The Life and Work of Harry Bertoia. Each lucky attendee would receive a copy. My wrist no worse for wear, we soon completed the task.
Katie, a perky young Knoll-ee, assisted me in going through the Knoll archives pertaining to Harry. In the 50 or so files she had gathered were many old photos, catalogues, and business papers.
Many I had seen or seen copies of previously, but there were a few photos that she kindly scanned for me that were too precious to pass up.
You may see some in future writings.
Even a few of Harry looking affectionately into the eyes of toddler Celia! I was hoping to find handwritten notes between Florence and Harry, but no such letters were included.
Nevertheless, it was exciting to be able to see the original papers. With that final task, my business at Knoll was complete for the moment.
After a jam packed six days in New York, I took a bus to Allentown and picked up my rental car.
I was lucky enough to be able to stay with my old high school pal Sharon in Green Lane, and got to see several other old friends.
I went to school in Pennsburg and East Greenville, where the original Knoll plant still exists, so still have numerous connections.
Most of the Bertoia family has moved away from the area, but my brother Val of Bertoia Studio still gives concerts at the Sonambient Barn in Barto.
A book signing at the Barnes & Noble flagship store in Center Valley, just outside Bethlehem, filled my Saturday. Only a handful of folks showed up, but they all bought a book.
One attendee was Mira Nakashima (Yarnall), daughter of the famed woodworker George Nakashima. We had a chance to have lunch together afterwards and catch up on our respective lives.
The Nakashimas and Bertoias have been friends since 1951 when Brigitta, Harry, Val and Lesta lived in New Hope near the Nakashimas.
Harry and George had a similar eastern style philosophy of placing more importance on Divine inspiration than on individual accomplishments. Mira is really a lovely, gentle woman carrying on the legacy of her father in fine fashion. She is an inspiration to me!
I also interviewed (about the book) with the local NPR station, WHYY. Our thirty minute conversation was distilled into about three minutes of data about Harry Bertoia.
It aired in late June, and if you missed it, you can listen here:
The Lehigh Valley International Airport (formerly ABE airport) once boasted a large, hanging tonal sculpture in the main area.
It had to be removed and stored to put in a handicap elevator in 2010, and now the HarryBertoia foundation is looking into its restoration.
I used to get a thrill every time I arrived at the airport, seeing my father’s work prominently placed, and felt distressed when it disappeared.
Communication has begun. Cross your fingers.
While my morning walks in Pennsylvania were green and lush and lovely, I am so relieved to be back in Montana with mountains, dry cool air, my husband Kyle, and my three cats.