Maquette for The Comet, 1964
Brass-coated metal wire and bronze
49 3/8 x 18 1/2 x 18 1/2 inches
Harry Bertoia’s interest and expertise in metalwork unfolded at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, the progressive Detroit school centered on the unification of fine and applied arts. He opened the school’s metal workshop, and first applied the medium to the fabrication of small tableware objects and jewelry. Bertoia eventually expanded and enlarged his repertoire as his career progressed and he learned more technical metalworking skills, such as welding.
Starting in the midcentury, Bertoia was commissioned by a number of notable contemporary architects to design large-scale sculptures for their newly designed projects. In 1963, the Detroit architecture firm Meathe, Kessler & Associates asked Bertoia to design an installation piece for the Grosse Pointe, Michigan home of W. Hawkins Ferry (1914-1988). Ferry was an architectural historian, patron and collector of twentieth century modernist art and his newly constructed International style home reflected his eclectic taste and influence. The final design was The Comet, executed and installed in the home’s two-story living room in 1964. Constructed with brass-coated steel rods that terminated in multicolored globules, the towering fourteen-foot sculpture was a centerpiece of the home. After it was installed, Ferry remarked in his last letter to Bertoia, “Your sculpture has been hung, and I want to congratulate you for doing such a magnificent job. The piece is perfect for the space; and, when the spotlight is turned on, the effect is positively brilliant.” The present maquette was a study for The Comet, and like the final sculpture it is designed as a bursting comet with a dense mass of frenetic activity and a long tail shooting above. Individual pieces of brass-coated wires are meticulously welded together to showcase an effect of spontaneity and a balance of forms. While the sculpture powerfully expresses the energy of a celestial phenomenon, it also embodies a delicacy through the interlacing of the thin golden rods. Bertoia was fascinated with the cosmos, at times referencing a divine source for his own creativity.