Designer Irving Harper’s Amazing Paper Sculptures

The Marshmallow Sofa Not the Only Incredible Thing Harper Designed

Check out some of the incredible paper sculptures this amazing talent gave us:

Irving Harper paper sculpture

Irving Harper, who died August 4, 2015 at the age of 99, was an amazing industrial designer. He is perhaps best known for the “Marshmallow sofa” which he designed while working for the Herman Miller furniture company. That was in 1956.

Harper was much more than a designer of furniture. He also created the Herman Miller logo.

But his main focus was on the sculptural. At one point in his career Harper was responsible for handling an account for the Howard Miller Clock Co. His concept was clocks that were as much an artistic and sculptural statement as they were timepieces.

“To omit numbers and have an abstract object that moved on the wall was something no one was doing at the time”. He would design a group of about eight clocks once or twice a year, which were sent to Howard Miller Clock Co. Most were put into production.

And if that is not enough, Harper created many paper sculptures.

Irving Harper multiple paper sculptures

These incredible sculptures began as a way to relieve the stress of his career. He sought something he could do at home that would sooth his nerves. Rather than turning to knitting or crocheting (both of which he considered) he decided to create these paper sculptures. That’s good news for art lovers!

He had always made incredible models out of cardboard for his clients. That was how the inspiration struck.

For the next four decades, Harper made sculptures. He built them mostly out of paperboard, but also balsa wood, beads, straws, toothpicks, pinecones, telephone wire, twigs, dolls’ limbs and glass eyeballs, Mylar sheets, Styrofoam lumps, and pieces of the ceramic clocks he designed for the Michigan-based company Howard Miller. He scouted Manhattan art galleries and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for inspiration and fashioned Egyptian cats and stylized antelope heads, Byzantine towers, African masks, a Renaissance Florentine church in relief. He built constructions stacked like molecules, and abstractions that peeled off the picture plane like a grid of flames. He worked in the styles of Surrealism and de Stijl and made study after study of Picasso, the artist he admired above all others. On his shelves, Guernica’s suffering humans and horses mingled with crows, antelopes, and throned Egyptian animal gods.

These sculptures were strictly for Harper, and his family. Only on a rare occasion were they ever shown elsewhere. In 2014, less than one year before his death, there was a retrospective of his work, much of which had never been on public display.

Irving Harper owl and other paper sculptures

Harper never sold his work.

“I had all the money I wanted. Then I would have lost my sculptures and just had more money. I just wanted to have them around.”

Read more about the amazing sculptor Irving Harper at Why magazine in this article by Julie Lasky.