Alexander “Sandy” Calder remains one of the most influential artists the United States has ever produced for one simple reason: His greatest achievement transcends the fine art world.
Born in Pennsylvania at the tail end of the nineteenth century, Calder’s eventual vocation seems like a birthright. His father, Sterling Calder, was a working sculptor, after all, but no good story is that simple. Sterling contracted tuberculosis, which led the Calder family west, first to Arizona and then Pasadena, California. This is where the younger Calder first began twisting bits of wire into jewelry and small sculptures.
Jump ahead several years and we find our man Calder studying not art but mechanical engineering, after which he found work in that field. But the compulsion to make things remained, so at age 28 he moved to Paris and set up his first sculpture studio. There he also befriended artist Marcel Duchamp, among others.
Calder blended his love of making things with his mechanical engineering background, creating hanging sculptures that moved when touched or disturbed by the wind. Duchamp named his friend’s sculptures “mobiles” and the rest is history. But Calder didn’t only make mobiles, he also created massive, immobile constructions that he called “stabiles,” one of which is pictured at the top of this article.
Throughout his life Sandy never lost his fondness for clever little wire sculptures. His suitcase circus, Cirque Calder, is virtually impossible not to smile at, and watching him perform it looks suspiciously like watching a kid at play:
So what can we take from Alexander Calder?
Never lose your playfulness.
Just because you’re an engineer (or any vocation) doesn’t mean you can’t be creative.
And art is everywhere, from that bit of wire waiting to be twisted to that thing hanging over your baby’s crib.
photo Vincent Desjardins/flickr