Bertoia developed his own style of creating monographics at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, and never worked with, or even met, other printmakers.
He would ink up a glass surface, place rice paper on the glass, and then create designs with fingers or hand tools from the backside of the paper. Each “print” is unique – never reproductions of another – and there are thousands of them. When Bertoia, looking for critique and direction, sent about 100 monotypes to Hilla Rebay at the Guggenheim Museum of Non-Objective Art in 1943, he was quite shocked when she asked to purchase the entire stock. He was up half the night determining a fee, and finally set $1000 as his compensation. When the subsequent Guggenheim show included many of his prints, Bertoia’s name gained recognition.
Bertoia loved the quickness and spontaneity of the medium of his graphics. While sculptures took weeks or months to produce, monotypes came to life in mere minutes. The series of 50 monotypes reproduced in the Harry Bertoia Fifty Drawings book “came into being in about twenty-four hours of uninterrupted work.” Most, if not all, of Bertoia’s designs, whether they are chairs or sculptures or tonals, were born on paper first. He started the monotypes in 1939 and continued throughout his life.
Originals can be found at Solway Gallery and numerous auction houses listed on our links.