smow blog compact: Isamu Noguchi, George Nelson and the Ball Clock

As many of you will be aware, for us no post about 20th century American design is complete with the addition of alcohol and George Nelson.

And so by way of a reprise to our recent post celebrating Isamu Noguchi’s birthday, we present, with thanks to Stanley Abercrombie’s ever excellent and easily recommendable George Nelson biography, George Nelson’s recollections on Isamu Noguchi and his role in the creation of the famous Ball Clock.

An anecdote that in addition beautifully highlights the complex creative process involved in developing timeless design classics:

We were all involved in cooking up these clocks, and Irving [Harper], in the end, was the one who made them complicated, beautiful, and so on. And there was one night when the ball clock got developed, which was one of the really funny evenings. Noguchi came by, and Bucky Fuller came by.

I’d been seeing a lot of Bucky those days, and here was Irving and here was I, and Noguchi, who can’t keep his hands of anything, you know – it is a marvellous, itchy thing he’s got – he saw we were working on clocks and he started making doodles. Then Bucky sort of brushed Isamu aside. He said “This is a good way to do a clock”, and he made some utterly absurd thing. Everybody was taking a crack at this….pushing each other aside and making scribbles. At some point we left – we were suddenly very tired, and we’d had a little bit too much to drink – and the next morning I came back, and here was this roll [of drafting paper], and Irving and I looked at it, and somewhere on this roll there was the ball clock. I don’t know to this day who cooked it up. I know it wasn’t me. It might have been Irving, but he didn’t think so…. [We] both guessed that Isamu had probably done it because [he] has a genius for doing two stupid things and making something extraordinary….”1

1 Transcript from an interview with George Nelson conducted by Ralph Caplan on January 30th 1981, quoted in Abercrombie, Stanley. “George Nelson. The design of modern design” MIT Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 1995

vitra george nelson ball clock

The Vitra Ball Clock by George Nelson. Or possibly Isamu Noguchi. But, apparently, definitely not Richard Buckminster Fuller

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