Bertoia in Texas

San Antonio Museum of Art
&
Knoll

[object Object]

Photo from the San Antonio Museum of Art via samuseum.org

Photo from the San Antonio Museum of Art via samuseum.org

The San Antonio Museum of Art currently boasts a modest Harry Bertoia exhibition and invited me to speak about the pieces. Most of the sculptures had been donated and lent from a previous Knoll president, Bobby Cadwallader, who was gracious enough to allow me to visit his home.

Photo from the Harry Bertoia Foundation

Photo from the Harry Bertoia Foundation

He had started at Knoll in 1955 watering the rubber trees and ended up being the president of Knoll by the 1980s; quite the American success story.

Photo from the Harry Bertoia Foundation

Photo from the Harry Bertoia Foundation

Bobby and his sparkly wife Laura showed me around their near museum-quality home while regaling lots of Knoll and Bertoia stories. They now live in San Antonio, but during his early Knoll years, they were in Dallas.

"Between 1951 and 1961, Florence Knoll designed showrooms around the world—from Dallas to Milan" Photo from Knoll, Inc.

"Between 1951 and 1961, Florence Knoll designed showrooms around the world—from Dallas to Milan" Photo from Knoll, Inc.

One of the pieces he donated to the museum in San Antonio was a sunburst piece he purchased from Harry and had displayed in his living room. When Florence Knoll came traipsing through his home, she remarked that Bobby might put that piece in the Knoll showroom right away for others to see. What Florence suggested was really more of a command, since she was the president of the company at that time, so of course Bobby put the piece in the showroom. But, in fear that someone would buy it out from under him, he asked Harry to make another similar piece that he could substitute at the office. Harry obliged and the smaller version eventually was sold, but Bobby’s piece was safe at home again.

What Florence suggested was really more of a command

The San Antonio Museum of Art

Photo via http://sanantonio.culturemap.com

Photo via http://sanantonio.culturemap.com

The audience at the museum was educated and eager; my favorite kind of folks. About 150 people filled the auditorium as we created a Bertoia ambience. There was a long line for the book-signing afterwards and they sold out of The Life and Work of Harry Bertoia!

Available in our Shop and on Amazon

Available in our Shop and on Amazon

I did have a moment to inspect the gallery with the Bertoia’s, and, while the guards weren’t looking, I stroked the beautiful sounding sculpture to full effect. As the daughter, I figure I’m allowed to break the rules regarding my father’s works. Harry would have chuckled.

Knoll

Photo from the Harry Bertoia Foundation

Photo from the Harry Bertoia Foundation

A Knoll breakfast was also well attended, with the café having to bring in extra chairs to accommodate all. SKG, the main distributor of Knoll in Texas, opened their San Antonio branch recently, in 2017, and was happy to sponsor the event. From what the salespeople tell me, having the background stories about Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames and the rest of the mid-century greats, makes selling the furniture so much easier. Hearing about the Eames – Bertoia split in 1946 is intriguing. Looking back on it now, it wasn’t really that important in the overall scheme of design, but it adds an element of humanness and personality to the chairs. Or knowing that Saarinen was entreating Bertoia to keep his affair with the dark haired beauty a secret is amusing, although he ended up marrying her later. It’s the juicy tales that make the chairs come alive.

Photo from the Harry Bertoia Foundation

Photo from the Harry Bertoia Foundation

There was talk of Florence Knoll and her recent passing at age 101 – what a monumental design figure she was! Knoll had a lovely article about her importance, as did numerous design magazines. Bobby Cadwallader said that the last time he saw her was in the office at the elevator. “Shu” was just about to enter the down elevator in the New York office as Bobby, the newly appointed Marketing Vice President, was stepping off. She coerced him to ride down with her, telling him what a good job he was doing. She finished by saying something like, “Bobby, I just resigned from Knoll. I’m never coming back. It’s too stressful. But if you ever want to talk to me, here is my Florida phone number. Good bye.” And she never returned. Bobby wanted to call her a time or two, but resisted, thinking that if he got an answer from her once, it would make it too easy to get all the answers from her. Instead, he figured things out for himself. It all worked out well.

Photo from ultimateexcursions.biz

Photo from ultimateexcursions.biz

San Antonio itself was a bit of a surprise to me. The population is 3 million (much larger than I thought), and it is quite sophisticated in a very charming way. The recently revised River Walk is a wonderful paved path for dog walkers, joggers, couples meandering, and children of all ages. The historic Alamo and other sites are an important part of American history. The art museum, another surprise, is huge in size with an impressive collection spanning all centuries and continents. The auditorium where I spoke is a state-of-the-art tiered facility. I am so glad I had the chance to experience it!