The California Tour

Sharing a labor of love.

Knoll, sponsor of two Bertoia Centennial celebrations, invited their designers, architects and clients in the southern California area to these private events.

This was an educated audience. They had excellent questions and had clearly studied the Bertoia chair history. I gave them a balanced mix of technical data and historical facts along with anecdotes and personal stories about my father.

Knoll took the opportunity to show a fantastic video made by Knoll Europe of the actual construction of the Bertoia chairs. The production plant for most of the metal furniture by Knoll is in Verona, Italy. The process is efficiently mechanized, but there is still some human touch.

It is obvious that quality is a top priority when we see men cleaning and polishing the final products with care and flourish. The chairs are pure steel with the most important welds done by hand in an elegant fashion.

18k gold plated Bertoia diamond chair, courtesy of Knoll via Twitter

I wish everyone who ever pondered purchasing a “knock-off” could see this film.

It is true that you get what you pay for.

The Bertoia Weld

There were several skilled metal workers in the crowd as well, who taught me a few things.

The coordinator of the event at Knoll Santa Monica, Marike Smith, explained about a special weld she had to learn in design school.

Courtesy of Urbnite via Tumblr

It was a difficult type of weld to perfect, as it had to be smooth and sleek as opposed to blobby and messy. Most amateur welders tend to go overboard and glob on too much material, resulting in a glaring globby mass. Marike had to work hard to conquer this practice. The idea is to use just the right amount of material in a quick, smooth technique with the end result being a beautiful clean weld.

This type of weld is called, of all things, the Bertoia weld.

On the website of Jonas Forth, he puts it into words perfectly, as he examined a Bertoia chair he was renovating, “I’m not sure how they originally welded them but the work is exquisite with minimal overlay of material.”

Courtesy of Notre Jour Viendra via Tumblr

Two sculptors also informed me of Bertoia’s skill as a welder. Because they deal with metal every day and strive to produce beautiful, consistent work, they are fully aware of how much proficiency Harry garnered as a metalsmith. His welds are clean, smooth, strong and do not draw attention. The idea is to have viewers appreciating the overall art rather than be distracted by the construction methods.

Even Harry’s assistants in the shop mentioned this; that certain welds could only be done by Harry because of the delicacy or difficulty of the joint.

On a lighter note, both events boasted a huge, delicious birthday cake for Harry’s 100th birthday.

Without prior planning, both coordinators used the same photo of Harry on the cake as they thought it represented him so well. He looked peaceful and content sitting on his bird chair.

In La Jolla, next to San Diego, I had a chance to visit the area where my mother and father lived during the late 1940s. They already had my sister Lesta and my brother Val as toddlers and stayed in cheap, modest housing at the Naval Lab on Point Loma.

The homes were tiny, but the influence of nature and the ocean was huge.

They also stayed (unconfirmed) at an amazing efficient home designed by Rudolph Schindler. The Schindler units were built using local materials such as redwood and cement made with beach sand and were just the cutest places you ever saw.

I got a real feel for how my mother must have frolicked on the beach with her young children and how Harry must have been inspired by the fantastic vegetation and wild weather of the coast.

California is truly the Midcentury Modern mecca of the country. There are Bertoia chairs everywhere! I feel lucky that I get to go there for “business” and am able to enjoy the ocean and the friendly atmosphere.

The Life and Work of Harry Bertoia, my recent book, is available at Hennessey Ingalls bookstore in Santa Monica, and is coming to the Mingei Museum store soon in San Diego, and of course, at Amazon and all other large book sellers. You can purchase a signed copy with a personalized dedication at the HarryBertoia foundation website here:

Harry Bertoia Store
The Life and Work of Harry Bertoia: The Man, The Artist, The Visionary
This important volume, illustrated with over 200 revealing photos, allows easy identification and appreciation of Bertoia’s work. Written with insights that only a daughter could offer, this impressive book also reveals the complex man behind the fascinating art.
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