Designer: Irving Harper

In addition to an astounding array of now-iconic furnishings and functional objects, Irving Harper also designed memorable brands and exhibition showcases for the world stage. A consummate creative mind, Harper dedicated his spare time to his own art, creating an impressive array of paper sculptures.
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Did you know?

Irving Harper was born Irving Hoffzimer; he changed his last name to Harper when he married Belle Seligman because she refused to take the name Hoffzimer.

Harper joked that he created the iconic Herman Miller logo of a red M against a black and white background because he was secretly communist.

He contributed to designs for the Moscow World’s Fair Cultural Pavilion along with Buckminster Fuller and Charles and Ray Eames.

Harper was one of five signatories on a telegram to President Kennedy decrying the Unisphere sculpture designed as a symbol for the New World’s Fair, stating that it was “probably one of the most uninspired designs” and it would “reflect seriously against United States prestige”.

Auction Results Irving Harper

Irving Harper: Paper Sculptures

Working from the attic of his Rye, New York home, Irving Harper created extensive groups of works in a dizzying array of visual motifs, drawing on a wide-ranging set of artistic influences. His primary material of choice was paper, and Harper's mastery of the delicate material gave way to the execution of a seemingly limitless stream of objects. 

In 2016, Wright presented Irving Harper: Paper Sculptures, an auction devoted to the idiosyncratic, extraordinary and diverse series of sculptures created by Irving Harper. With the exception of a few gifts to friends, the sale represented the entirety of his sculptural production.

I never sold any of my pieces. I had all the money I wanted. Then I would have lost my sculptures and just had more money.

Irving Harper

Irving Harper for George
Nelson & Associates

The designs that came out of the offices at George Nelson & Associates are synonymous with our ideas of mid-century modern in America. Irving Harper joined George Nelson & Associates in 1947, the year it was founded, and designed many of the firm’s most iconic designs during his seventeen years there.

Irving Harper: Paper Sculptures Exhibition

In conjunction with the 2016 auction, Wright brought the art of Irving Harper to New York for an exhibition. Many of the delicate paper sculptures on display had never before been exhibited.

Irving Harper 1916–2015

Irving Hoffzimer was born in 1916 in the Lower East Side of New York. He studied architecture at Cooper Union School of Architecture before working as a draftsman for Gilbert Rohde and later finding employment at the firm of Morris B. Sanders; he contributed to several designs for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York working with both. In 1940 he married Belle Seligman and changed his last name to Harper when Belle refused to take the name Hoffzimer. During World War II, Harper served for both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, returning to the workforce in 1946 designing department store interiors for Raymond Loewy Associates.

In 1947, Harper began working at George Nelson & Associates designing many of the company’s most iconic works during his seventeen years with the firm including the Ball Clock, Marshmallow Sofa, and Herman Miller's iconic logo with the red M and many more. He went on to design the Chrysler Pavilion for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, his design lauded as the “surprise of the fair” before forming the design firm Harper+ George with fellow former Nelson designer, Phillip George in 1964. Their list of clients included Braniff Airways International for whom he designed the script that was featured on the iconic Boeing 747 known affectionately as the “Big Orange”. In 1983, after nearly 20 years, Harper+George dissolved though Harper continued his career designing for several more years under the firm name of Irving Harper, Inc.

It was in 1963 that Harper began creating his paper sculptures (to deal with the stress of designing for the World’s Fair), his oeuvre consisting of more than 300 works that he mostly kept to himself. Though his art was the feature of a retrospective, Irving Harper: a Mid-Century Mind at Play at The Rye Art Center in 2013 and of the 2014 Rizzoli book Irving Harper: Works in Paper by Michael Maharam. In 2016, a year after his death at ninety-nine, Wright hosted an auction dedicated to his art.

Today, Irving Harper designs can be found in several museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York and The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

If you would like to learn more about a work by Irving Harper, contact our specialists today! 
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