Isamu Noguchi

The Isamu Noguchi coffee table. Photography Courtesy of the Noguchi Museum, New York

Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904. After graduating from high school, he served an apprenticeship under Gutzon Borglum — the sculptor who oversaw the creation of Mount Rushmore. Borglum discouraged him from becoming a sculptor but Noguchi pursued his studies anyway, eventually winning a Guggenheim fellowship in 1927 allowing him to study under abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi in Paris. It was there that he began to produce the abstract natural forms for which he’s best known.

After traveling to China and Japan to study calligraphy and pottery, Noguchi returned to New York in 1932, where he had several gallery showings. In 1935, he designed his first set for dancer/choreographer Martha Graham — a partnership that lasted 50 years. He broke into furniture design when George Nelson of Herman Miller used an illustration of a coffee table Noguchi designed for an article on how to make a table. It caught the eye of other designers at Herman Miller and was put into production in 1947. Reissued in 1984, the glass-top coffee table with an interlocking base became an icon of mid-century design.

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