Harry Bertoia "Golden Tree" Bronze, ca. 1969
Years ago, I worked at Knoll Associates, before it became Knoll International. And one of the exhibitors in the showroom was Harry Bertoia and his furniture. He had some of his sculptures in the showroom, and, apparently, I had sold one to a customer, because I was in communication with him. And I asked him if he ever had a sculpture, and specifically this one, that I would be interested in buying it. And he wrote back and said, well, he didn't have one at the moment. And a few months later, I had a letter from him saying this sculpture was in the mail, that it would be $250. I was thrilled that I could have it. So after it arrived, I put it on the showroom floor, and architects went crazy for it. I had offers all over the place for it. But I said, "Nope, I want it myself." At the time I received it, these little balls were bright gold. I did take it to a restorer. It would be laborious, and I'm just wondering, is it worth it for me to do that?
And did you actually know him, or was it all corresponding?
No, I never met him. But I think I must have talked to him, because there was other communications, probably by phone, so I don't have any record of that. I just have a couple of letters.
Well, Bertoia was born in Italy, just north of Venice, and he came to the United States when he was 15 years old, which was in 1930. Wound up in Detroit, and he studied at the Cranbrook Academy. And that's where met Florence Knoll, and he also met Charles Eames-- who were major, major designers of furniture in the 20th century. And he was very successful as a metal worker, and he actually headed the metal-working department at Cranbrook, and he made jewelry. He made lots of sculptures. But the sculptures didn't come till a little bit later because he went out to California and worked with the Eameses on their molded plywood furniture, and he was very, very innovative, making the tools and the jigs to make up the pieces. And then through his friendship with Florence Knoll, he moved to Pennsylvania and started designing furniture. And he made sculptures. His most famous sculptures are these ones that are called Sonambient. And they were basically long rods with tops on them, all in bronze. And they would be pushed together, and they made sounds and music. And he actually recorded it, and he produced records, LPs, and sell them as music. He also did these, which are called the Bush Series. So it's made of bronze. And the pieces are welded together, rather than being cast, like most bronze is. And the letter is dated in 1969. So I think it was probably made around 1969. Looking through all the auction records, I was really fascinated because they all say, "Untitled, Bush Series." And interestingly enough, in your letter, it actually says over here what the title is, "Golden Tree." And that's something that, that I haven't come across in any of the auction records. I think that's really fascinating.
If you wanted to restore it, it's pretty labor-intensive, because you'd have to actually polish each one of these balls. So I think you probably would be looking at a couple of thousand dollars to restore it. I don't think that's necessary. It is wonderful, and as I said, the market is very, very hot for this. In the current auction market for this, the value is between $30,000 and $50,000.
(chuckles) How nice.
I think so. (laughing) It's a long way from $250, huh? GUEST (laughing): Yes.
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