Beat Around the Bush

Anecdotes & Stories from Celia Bertoia

My father loved our spread in the Pennsylvania countryside. We had all kinds of trees and bushes on 200 acres of mostly native forest. Dogwoods, Hydrangeas, unnamed wild brambles and juniper shrubbery. Always inspired by nature, he began to experiment with tree and bush type sculptures. From these forms also came the dandelions and sunbursts as well as the willow and pine tree sculptures. One of the activities we did as a family was to take a walk in the woods on a Sunday afternoon.

If you follow the construction of a Bertoia bush, it is just like Mother Nature's creations in its branching and budding build. The base or root, a sturdy stem, then thicker branches leading to lighter branches often with some kind of flower or bud. And they feel almost as alive as the natural ones.

There is 5-yr-old me on our land of dogwoods and secret pathways; Nature's inspiration.

Bertoia bushes are generally on the smaller side, from just under 12" to at most 48" or 50" tall. A petite size might take a month to make - not necessarily full time - but between paying jobs. Many of these became gifts. The later larger models with curves and undulations could take upwards of six months to complete, and that being closer to full time.

Ed Flanagan, one of Harry's assistants, often had the task of welding branches to the stem; tedious careful work. But the design was always Harry's and the ending touches had to be Harry's as well. Ed commented, "Harry was an excellent welder. There were some welds that only he could do, like at the completion of a bush. I could never figure out exactly how he did it."

Harry never hurried in his passion of creating his visions, but he didn't dawdle either. He took the time it took.

Notice this bush's open ended tips. They are so sharp in their hollow spears that I found myself bleeding after brushing against it. Sorry, bush!

This unusual bush remained with the estate from its inception and now sits with the foundation's collection.

Every bush told a story. Sitting out behind the shop at lunch one day, Harry and his workers noticed a hornets' nest on the neighboring building, with hornets busily building the paper nest. The next day he started a bush with a hornets' nest and later gave it to an old friend.

Some of the larger bushes held partially hidden buds or blooms. Harry remarked, "I almost don't want to see a beautiful flower because I know it will fade in a few days. But that moment of the perfect blossom... aaaah!"

He never replicated objects but rather induced the essence with his own interpretation. Nature was his constant inspiration. He managed to take a cold stiff material - metal - and transform it into a warm and lively entity. The bushes are my personal favorite. My father was a tremendous spirit and is still with me.

Celia Bertoia March 2017

A 1978 bush with hornet's nest and a patinated bush with bloom.