A Joyous Sound

An Important Sonambient from the Collection of John J. Desmond

The Desmond Residence in Hammond, Louisiana designed by John J. Desmond, 1960

Architect John J. Desmond studied under Alvar Aalto at MIT before returning to the small town of Hammond Louisiana to start his award winning practice. Desmond acquired the present lot, a Sonambient in beryllium copper and brass, for his own residence which he designed in 1960. Upon hearing of the purchase, Bertoia drafted the below letter highlighting the musical qualities of his tonal works, which he described as "a joyous sound".

Aug 18, 1969

Dear Mr. Desmond

I heard from Carlos Ferrer that you have purchased one of my tonal pieces. Specifically the 48’’ Beryllium Copper—two shafts that can clap and produce a joyous sound. Of the many alloys, beryllium is still my favorite for its tonal quality. You may be interested to know that your piece is a member of a large family, an entire orchestral ensemble which offers unlimited possibilities for generating new sound relations. Some future day, I hope, will hold the pleasure for you to hear its kin. Meanwhile my best wishes for your enjoyment of your acquisition.

Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia 1915–1978

Harry Bertoia was a true Renaissance man well-versed in the language of art and design. Born in San Lorenzo, Italy in 1915, Bertoia relocated to the United States at the age of fifteen and enrolled at Cass Technical High School in Detroit to study hand-made jewelry. In 1937, Bertoia was awarded a scholarship to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he studied under the direction of Maija Grotell and Walter Gropius. Bertoia was drawn to the mostly empty metal shop and, after two years in the program, was invited to head the department.

At Cranbrook, Bertoia was introduced to a number of designers whose names would become synonymous with mid-century modern design. Here he met Eero Saarinen, with whom he would collaborate on numerous architectural projects, and Charles and Ray Eames with whom, for a short period during the war, he would work for at the Molded Plywood Division of Evans Products in California. In 1950, Bertoia moved east to Pennsylvania to open his own studio and to work with Florence Knoll designing chairs. Bertoia designed five chairs out of wire that would become icons of the period, all of them popular and all still in production today.

The success of his chair designs for Knoll afforded Bertoia the means to pursue his artistic career and by the mid-1950s he was dedicated exclusively to his art. Using traditional materials in non-traditional ways, Bertoia created organic sculptural works uniting sound, form and motion. From sculptures sold to private buyers to large-scale installations in the public realm, Bertoia developed an artistic language that is at once recognizable but also uniquely his own.

Today Bertoia’s works can be found in various private and numerous public collections, including: The Art Institute of Chicago, Denver Art Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., Museum of Modern Art, New York, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

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