Alexander Calder was born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania in 1898, the second child of a sculptor (his father) and a painter (his mother). Calder was encouraged to create, and from early age and always had his own workshop.
After finishing high school, Calder studied at the Stevens Institute and graduated in 1919 with an engineering degree. In 1923, Calder moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League. He also took a job illustrating for the National Police Gazette; and sent to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus to sketch circus scenes in 1925. The circus became a lifelong interest of Calder’s, and after moving to Paris in 1926, he created his Cirque Calder.
The Cirque Calder included diminutive circus performers, animals, and props Calder fashioned from wire, leather, cloth, and other found materials designed to be manipulated manually by Calder. His unusual creation drew crowds from outside and inside the artistic community; its first performance was held in Paris for an audience of friends and peers, and soon Calder was presenting the circus in both Paris and New York to much success.
Calder found he enjoyed working with wire and soon began to sculpt portraits of his friends and public figures of the time, utilizing this material. Calder’s first wire sculpture, (Josephine Baker), was a witty linear representation of the famous American-born singer, actress and dancer. His portraits became increasingly three dimensional as the artist refined his technique.
In 1931, Calder met and married Louisa James (grandniece of writer Henry James), with whom he had two daughters Sandra born in (1935) and Mary born in (1939). In 1933 Calder and his wife bought a farm in Roxbury, Connecticut, where he established his studio.
Calder also created jewelry, his most memorable pieces of work shined through in his experimental line of brass, copper and metal jewelry, combining his love of sculpture, mobiles, and whimsy. Making jewelry became a way for Calder to work out ideas for large-scale pieces and support his family while he got established as a sculptor. The first time his jewelry was exhibited, in 1929, it was right beside his paintings and sculptures.
Every one of his jewelry pieces started out as a piece of wire and Calder hammered them into shapes. Throughout his life, Calder produced more than 1,800 jewelry objects, each made entirely by hand. His first pieces date back to the 1920s; pieces made for his older sister’s dolls. Nearly every piece consisted of hammered, bent or chiseled wire. Plier marks are visible on the unpolished surfaces. Calder rarely used solder; when he needed to join strips of metal, he linked them with loops, bound them with snippets of wire or fashioned rivets. Some of his intricate-looking cuff bracelets, with wavy lines and zigzags, are little more than single pieces of twisted and flattened wire.
Calder’s jewelry appealed to women with avant-garde tastes who liked to make a dramatic entrance. He created fantastic, wild and extravagant fantasy jewelry in brass, silver and gold. It’s become a cliché to describe statement-making jewelry as “wearable art,” but no other term quite captures the personal adornments made by Alexander Calder.
His earrings, necklaces and bracelets were mini-mobiles that dangled from the wrists, necks and earlobes of sophisticates like Peggy Guggenheim, Jeanne Moreau, Georgia O’Keefe, and the wives of Joan Miro, Marcel Duchamp, Luis Bunuel and Marc Chagall.ate-looking cuff bracelets, with wavy lines and zigzags, are little more than single pieces of twisted and flattened wire.
Calder’s bracelets and neck collars with parallel strips of wire bear a striking resemblance to Celtic or Pre-Colombian art. In the early 20th century, many avant-garde artists began to collect African tribal art and to reference it in their paintings and sculptures. In both technique and design, Calder aspired to be “primitive.” Likewise, Calder’s brooches, tiaras, and necklaces have more in common with the pectorals, collars, diadems, and neck pieces made by ancient cultures than traditional western European jewelry.
For example, Calder repeatedly incorporated the spiral, a typical motif in late Bronze Age artifacts into his jewelry, as well as his wire figures, drawings, paintings, and other decorative arts. The artist’s personal collections, which included objects from African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian cultures, substantiate his eclectic taste.
This use of non-precious materials and found objects guided his inventive jewelry technique, from his bohemian years of the 1920s and 1930s to the war years. His jewelry was coveted by the Surrealist coterie, and today is still highly sought after by collectors and museums.
In the fall of 1931, Calder created his first truly kinetic sculpture and gave form to an entirely new type of art. The first of these objects moved by systems of cranks and motors, they were called “mobiles” by Marcel Duchamp.
Calder soon abandoned the mechanical aspects of these works when he realized he could fashion mobiles that would undulate on their own with the air’s currents, and later called his static sculptures “stabiles.”
Later in his career, Calder worked on large-scale public works and earned a reputation as a major influence on modern sculpture. His 50-ton red abstract stabile in Chicago’s Federal Square, titled ‘Flamingo,’ is one of his most famous public works.
Calder died at the age of seventy-eight, ending the most prolific and innovative artistic career of the twentieth century.
Calder’s works are featured in permanent installations around the world. He designed many monumental pieces, including those for Lincoln Center in New York City, for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, for the gardens of UNESCO in Paris, and for Expo ’67 at Montreal. To this day, artists utilize Calder’s influence in their works and are constantly testing new and exciting methods of creative sculptural expression all thanks to Calder’s creations.