Irving Harper

Selections from the Estate

When Irving Harper, director of design at George Nelson & Associates, died in August 2015 at ninety-nine, he was remembered not only as one of the unsung designers who created some of the most iconic twentieth-century American designs, like the 1949 Atomic Ball Clock, the Herman Miller logo, and the 1956 Marshmallow Sofa, but also for his work as an innovative and original paper artist. Attention to his work came first in 2001 when he graced the cover of Metropolis magazine, followed by a book, Irving Harper: Works in Paper (Rizzoli, 2013), and most recently, in a 2014 exhibition of seventy-seven of his intricate paper sculptures at the Rye Arts Center Gallery. 

Over the space of almost four decades, he created more than 300 abstract geometric works and sculptures filling almost every surface of his 3-story 19th century farmhouse and barn in Rye, New York with models of imaginary buildings, surreal animals, Picasso-esque figures, and African inspired masks made of paper. 

Irving Harper never sold any of the pieces, only rarely trading them for artworks. He explained, “I like to have them around. They constitute my environment and I don’t want to deprive myself of them.” 

In January, 2016 Wright hosted the first sale of his work, Irving Harper Paper Sculptures. The following lots are from his estate.

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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Auction Results Irving Harper

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Owl) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Owl)
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $48,750

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $22,500

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $17,500

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $17,188

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Antelope) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Antelope)
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $16,250

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $13,750

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Dancing Figure) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Dancing Figure)
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $12,480

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Kingfisher) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Kingfisher)
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $12,188

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Head) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Head)
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $11,875

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Creature) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Creature)
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $11,875

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $11,520

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Bird on Swing) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Bird on Swing)
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $11,250

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Antelope) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Antelope)
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $10,625

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Cathedral Facade) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Cathedral Facade)
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $10,625

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $10,313

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $1,000–1,500
result: $10,000

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $10,000

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Wolf) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Wolf)
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $9,688

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $9,375

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $9,375

IRVING HARPER, Untitled (Flock of Birds in Tree) | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled (Flock of Birds in Tree)
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $9,375

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $1,000–1,500
result: $8,960

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $8,750

IRVING HARPER, Untitled | Wright20.com

Irving Harper

Untitled
estimate: $3,000–5,000
result: $8,750