Alexander Calder: Out of the Ordinary
Alexander “Sandy” Calder was an internationally admired American sculptor and artist who is best known for making sculpture move. In the 1930’s, he combined engineering and art to invent the mobile, a kinetic abstract sculpture of metal pieces connected by wires or rods that are delicately balanced to float in space and move in response to surrounding air currents or the push of a finger. Calder also created wire sculptures, paintings and jewelry, illustrated books, designed sets for the doyenne of modern dance, Martha Graham, created one-off art covering airplanes, and stabiles, which are free-standing, static abstract sculptures.
Born on July 22, 1898, into a family of artists in Lawnton, Pennsylvania, to sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder and portrait painter Nanette Lederer Calder, both Calder and his older sister, Margaret Calder Hayes, were encouraged to be creative from childhood. Calder created his earliest sculpture, a clay elephant, at the age of four. From 1906, even though his parents moved several times, Calder would always have a studio in each house where he would make various objects including his apocryphal 1909 Christmas gifts to his parents; a three-dimensional dog and a rocking duck out of brass sheeting.
Discouraged from pursuing a career as an artist, Calder initially trained as a mechanical engineer at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. He worked as an insurance salesman, rot tiller salesman, and engineer, but could not seem to find his niche. While in the merchant marine, he experienced an epiphany that turned him to art when he woke off the coast of Guatemala to see a fiery sunrise and a silver moon on opposite horizons. Calder studied at the Art Students’ League from 1923 to 1926 and worked as a freelance illustrator and toy designer. His fascination with the circus began in 1925 when he spent two weeks sketching at Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on...