Japanese-American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi designed this simple, stylish stool for Knoll in 1954. Noguchi went to Paris in the 1920s, and worked in the studio of Constantin Brancusi from 1927–29. He also met Alexander Calder and Alberto Giacometti during this time – all three of these sculptors and their work would remain as reference points for Noguchi throughout his career. The sense of motion and the ethereal quality of the rocking stool owes, in part, to these early influences. While there is structural integrity and a feeling of solidity in Noguchi’s design, there is also a playful feeling, as if the seat were a cork about to pop. The seat and base were made from turned and polished maple and connected by a series of polished steel rods. The seat has a subtly-sloped depression for the comfort of the stool’s occupant, and that same concave curve in the seat is echoed as a convex counterpoint in the stool’s base. It is possible to sit perfectly still on the rocking stool, but if one chooses to gently sway, it is easy to do so. The steel rods that connect the seat and base are V-shaped, and rise from a five-pointed arrangement at the base to an evenly spaced tensile array at the seat. These wire rods were used in homage to Noguchi’s fellow Knoll designer, Harry Bertoia, whose widely regarded wire-frame chairs were produced in this same time period. The Rocking Stool was only produced by Knoll for five years, until 1959, and was later re-issued by the Noguchi Foundation. It is a sterling example of the unique form of modernism practiced by Isamu Noguchi.
This stool will be on display in Energizing the Everyday: Gifts from the George R. Kravis II Collection, on view April 27, 2016 through March 12, 2017. From radios to furniture, the exhibition will display some of the most influential objects in the history of modernism, alongside contextual works drawn from the museum’s collection.
Bill Shaffer is a graduate student in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program jointly conducted by The New School/Parsons and The Cooper Hewitt Museum.