Herman Miller director, architect and designer George Nelson saw himself as something of a Renaissance artist. ‘In the best possible scenario, the industrial designer brings together all the arts’, he said in Fortune magazine.
Andy Warhol, Buckminster Fuller and Michael Graves all did projects with Nelson. But when he wanted to create gracefully curved machine-formed metal legs on his furniture, he called on an unknown graduate he had seen experimenting with a forging technique as a student when he lectured at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
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Charles Randolph Pollock impressed Nelson with a wire sculpture that he later presented to his idol as a gift. Pollock told Nelson he would like to work for him when he graduated.
The war intervened, and it was some time after that the young man went back to Nelson. Keen to produce a chair with a sculpted leg, Nelson was quick to hire Pollock for his metal skills and together they developed the DAF Swag Leg Armchair, now a coveted vintage design classic.
Nelson wanted the chair to be easy to assemble and disassemble so it could be shipped conveniently. Using a system called swaging , whereby the metal is tapered and bent by either pressing, hammering or force-feeding the metal using pressure through a die, Pollock was able to develop a system of swage moulds for Herman Miller to use in production, and the 16-gauge steel legs for Nelson’s famous Swag Leg collection (originally called Swaged-Leg) were born.
Nelson approached his friends Charles and Ray Eames for the seat to ask if he could use the patented moulded plastic they were working on, but instead of moulding it in one shell he created a separate seat and back.
In one version the back and seat were fused together, while another offered an articulated back. The result was a sculptural shape that provided a bit of give and allowed the body to breathe, with the added comfort of space.
Placed at the Swag Leg Desk, its refined shape allowed visibility around and through the furniture, so as not to clutter a room. The series of ten pieces including the desk, two chairs, a bureau, dining and work tables, and even a small grandfather clock was ready for production by 1958.
Nelson’s mission to transform the look of home and workplace was complete.