Born in San Lorenzo, Italy, in 1915, Harry Bertoia immigrated to the United States in 1930 to live with his brother Oreste, who had previously settled in Detroit. From 1937 to 1939 Bertoia attended the Cranbook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, where his classmates included the designer couple Charles and Ray Eames and the architect Eero Saarinen. After graduating, Bertoia taught metalworking at Cranbook, and in 1943 he began working with the Eameses on their first series of chairs in Santa Monica, California, where he also began studying welding at Santa Monica City College. He left Santa Monica in 1946 to work at Point Loma Naval Electrical Lab in La Jolla. There he experimented with welding techniques and began making his first wire and platform sculptures.
In 1950 Bertoia moved to Bally, Pennsylvania, where he designed his signature wire mesh Bertoia chair, several iterations of which were produced by Knoll Associates, a design firm founded by another Cranbook classmate, Florence Knoll, and her husband, Hans. From 1953 on, Bertoia worked primarily as a sculptor. He received a number of important large-scale commissions, including a screen for the General Motors Tech Center in Detroit (1953), a bronze mural for Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia (1963), and the fountain at Philadelphia’s Civic Center (1967). Bertoia died in 1978 and was buried behind his barn-studio, where his grave is marked by one of his sculptures, a one-ton gong.