Bertoia developed his own individual style of creating monographics by trial and error at Cranbrook, and never worked with, or even met, other printmakers. Often he would ink up a glass surface, place the rice paper on the glass, and then etch designs with fingers or hand tools from the backside of the paper. Each “print” is unique - never reproductions of another - and there are several thousand of them floating around. When Bertoia, looking for critique and direction, sent about 100 monoprints to Hilla Rebay at the Guggenheim Museum of Non-Objective Art in 1943, he was quite shocked when she asked what the price was to purchase the entire stock. He was up half the night determining a fee, and finally set $1000 as his compensation. When the subsequent Guggenheim show included many of his prints, Bertoia’s name gained recognition.
Bertoia loved the quickness and spontaneity of the medium of his graphics. While sculptures took weeks or months to produce, monotypes came to life in mere minutes. The series of 50 monotypes reproduced in the Harry Bertoia Fifty Drawings “came into being in about twenty-four hours of uninterrupted work”. Most of Bertoia’s designs, whether they are chairs or sculptures or sounding pieces, were born on paper first. He started the monoprints in 1939 and continued throughout his life even into his last year, 1978.
Drawing on the backside of the page did not permit clear visibility, a great advantage, for it necessitated inner vision to take over the function of the eye. Surprises were always in store when the paper was turned over.