Irving Harper: Works in Paper

by Maxwell Tielman

The month of February seems perfectly suited to paper crafts. Whether you’re cutting red construction paper to create handmade Valentine cards or just trying to take your mind off the seemingly endless winter outside, paper craft offers an easy and calming diversion. That’s what Irving Harper, one of the head designers for George Nelson Associates, was seeking when he began crafting small paper sculptures almost five decades ago. After long days spent working with loud, larger-than-life designs, Harper wanted something soothing to do when he got home. But what began as a relatively mindless, repetitive hobby for Harper bloomed into a full-blown magnum opus, spanning nearly the rest of his life.

As a designer, Irving Harper has been largely overshadowed by George Nelson, the much-revered industrial designer for whom Harper worked. Because of this, some of Harper’s most iconic designs are still attributed (only somewhat accurately) to Nelson. Items like the George Nelson Ball Clock and the Marshmallow Sofa (which is made today by Herman Miller) are some of the mid-twentieth century’s most emblematic designs, but their original designer often goes uncredited. Although Harper was more of a behind-the-scenes man at George Nelson Associates, his influence has been immeasurable.

For this reason, it’s thrilling to see Irving Harper finally getting his due, not for a collaborative project, but for something that is entirely his own. After nearly a half-century of being relegated to his Rye, New York, home, Harper’s stunning paper sculptures are finally reaching a wider audience. Irving Harper: Works in Paper (Skira Rizzoli, $45) is a sprawling love letter to an under-appreciated design master, a man who not only birthed some of the last century’s most inspiring work, but also made time to craft jaw-dropping works of art from common materials like construction paper and toothpicks. Filled with beautiful photographs of Harper’s art and his home, this book paints a lovely portrait of a quiet but wildly creative man and his work. — Max

See more from Irving Harper: Works in Paper after the jump . . .

Above image: Some of Irving Harper’s better-known designs: the George Nelson Ball Clock and the Marshmallow Sofa.

Here’s a lovely little video that HermanMiller made about Irving Harper’s sculptures:


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