“I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red.” - Alexander Calder

Calder the Early Years:

Alexander Stirling "Sandy" Calder (American, 1898-1976) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother, Nanette Lederer, was a painter and his father, Alexander "Stirling" Calder, and grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder, were well known sculptors. In elementary school Calder’s parents transformed a cellar into a studio for the young boy. He was given tools and encouraged to make things such as jewelry for his younger sister’s dolls. However, it was not his plan to follow in the footsteps of his elders. Calder chose to study engineering at the Stephens Institute of Technology.

Early Art:

After working and living in Europe for some time Calder came back to the United States and began working part-time as a commercial artist. He often sketched images of the animals and people at Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. These sketches were published in a book and were inspiration for his circus themed sculptures. These illustrations also helped Calder pay for his art education at the Art Students League in New York.

Calder returned to Europe and became enthralled by the art world. It was in Paris that Calder first began to work with wire to create circus scenes. Calder paid extreme attention to details in every object he created for the circus. Calder exhibited his love for kinetics in these early works concentrating a good deal on movement of the pieces. The elaborate circuses are often considered performance art. The manner in which Calder worked with wire was described by some as “drawing with space,” his goal was to create the essence of volume without mass. The majority of the artwork he created during this period in his life was representational.

Calder paid a visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio and it had a major impact on the work Calder was creating. Calder began to turn away from representational sculpture and painting and explore the abstract. Although the look of his work changed his love for movement did not.


Calder created sculptures where the viewers become part of the action by turning a crank. He also used motors to create movement. Calder’s work soon evolved into mobiles. A friend of Calder’s, Marcel Duchamp coined the term “mobile”. The mobiles would move because of natural elements such as wind. The mobiles were most often created using wire and sheet metal. When the mobiles were not hanging they had little or no shape. Once the mobile was suspended the elements of air and wind changed the formation into a fully three-dimensional work.

Bent Propeller; World Trade Center:

One of Calder’s mobiles, Bent Propeller, was created in 1970 and on permanent display at the World Trade Center in New York City. Images can be seen of workers trying to salvage as much of the sculpture as possible after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Artists and craftsman are currently trying to reconstruct the work. The sculpture was 25 feet tall and therefore was one of only two pieces of artwork that were found after the fall of the towers. Some of the works that were lost are: a rare tapestry by Joan Miro; multiple bronze sculptures by Auguste Rodin; paintings by Pablo Picasso, David Hockney, and Roy Lichtenstein.

Alexander Rower, grandson of Calder, has committed himself to recreating the quiet sculpture whose silence now has even more emotion and resonance. Rower hopes to recover enough pieces of the sculpture to flatten them out and rebuild the mobile, only needing to replace small elements. Although some people do not agree with the recreation of the mobile most have sentiments similar to Dietrich von Frank who stated: “Art personifies and objectifies what people actually feel. A piece of public artwork like this Calder would stand as a piece of survival and also as a piece of resolve."


After the mobiles came the stables. Stables were sculptures that remained stationary. Artist Jean Arp coined the name “stables”. These sculptures grew from fairly small metal forms to monumental masses. These stables have been placed all over the world as public art. Often Calder would combine the mobile and stabile by balancing the latter on top of a static piece.

Calder’s Many Abilities:

Calder is known as the first sculptor to make art move. However, he produced a wide variety of art during his career in addition to sculpture. The types of art Calder created include line drawings, toys, jewelry, wood carvings, bronze figures, abstract constructions of varied media, mechanized objects, tapestries and paintings.

Sources and Images:

http://sheldon.unl.edu/HTML/ARTIST/Calder_A/SS.html http://www.calder.org/SETS/home.html http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A6419-2002Jan6¬Found=true