In 1963, Irving Harper, director of design at George Nelson Associates and author of several of the 20th century’s most evocative household artifacts, including the atom-like Ball Clock (1949) and festive Marshmallow Sofa (1956), was a nervous wreck. He had been put in charge of the team designing the Chrysler pavilion for the 1964 New York World’s Fair and was looking for an activity to take his mind off the stress. One day he split apart a bamboo window blind and used Duco Cement to reconstitute the matchstick-sized pieces into a flowing mask.
For the next four decades, Harper made sculptures. He built them mostly out of paperboard but also used balsa wood, pinecones, telephone wire, and dolls’ limbs and glass eyeballs. By the time he had built his last work, around 2000, at the age of 84, the collection approached some 300 pieces, not one of which has ever been sold. Collectively, they form a sumptuous catalogue of one man’s perambulations along the boulevards of 20th-century aesthetics. Permeated with a calm sense of artistic adventure, the Harper interior in Rye, New York, reflects lives joyfully lived.
This excerpt is adapted from an essay by Julie Lasky and appears in the new book Irving Harper: Works in Paper (Skira Rizzoli).