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.
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