"To an engineer, good enough means perfect. With
an artist, there's no such thing as perfect."
When asked, “how do you know its time to stop working?”
The reply by sculptor Alexander Sandy Calder is simple, “When it's suppertime.”
A statement that shows his simple, funny, clever, and witty approach to life. "In modern work, the spectator
has to bring with him more then half of the emotion." Born the second child of artist parents Calder traveled all over
the country because of their public commissions. It was truly a family of artists. His mother, Nanette
Lederer Calder, was a portrait painter and his father, Alexander Stirling Calder, was a
sculptor. His grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder, was also a sculptor, in fact it was Calder’s
grandfather who created the famous thirty-seven foot tall, twenty-seven ton bronze statue of William Penn that is perched
atop of the city hall dome in Philadelphia. Despite a childhood filled with art experiences and exposure, Calder chose to
attend Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he played on the football team and earned a degree in
mechanical engineering. He worked as a hydraulics and automotive engineer before he basically got bored with engineering.
He then worked as a logging camp and as a fireman in a ship. While on the ship off the Pacific coast of El Salvador, early
one mourning as the sun rose and the full moon was visible, he had an epiphany that his life was meant to create art. He returned
to New York to attend the Art Students League, studying under Thomas Hart Benton, George
Luks, Guy Pène Du Bois, and his personal favorite, John Sloan.
He traveled and began to become known for his wire sculptures that centered on the idea of the circus. On his travels, he
met his wife, Louisa James, and many art friends like Joan Miró, Fernand Léger,
and Marcel Duchamp.
Calder’s art generally displays his interest in kinetics.
He had displayed this new artwork style that moved with a system of cranks and motors. When Marcel Duchamp
inspected these nameless sculptures, he first noticed their ability to move; having the ability to be move, they must be called
Mobiles. “When an artist explains what he is doing he usually has to do one of two things: either
scrap what he has explained, or make his subsequent work fit in with the explanation.” Soon he realized that
air flow could also operate these Mobiles, and that became a hugely popular series of works. He did make works that did not
move at all. Dada sculptor, Jean Arp named Calder's stationary works "Stabiles."
Calder (Sandy to his friends) and his family made Roxbury,
Connecticut home. There he worked out of an old icehouse. He made a lot of metal works, but did use many media over his career.
“I feel an artist should go about his work simply with great respect for his material.”
During World War 2, because of short supply of metal, Calder used wood as his primary media. This series was named "constellations"
by, who else, Marcel Duchamp. Although known as a sculptor, he also created paintings, illustrations,
prints, and theatrical set designs. He would continue to work throughout his life. Weeks after the opening of Calder's Universe
at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Calder died at the age of seventy-eight. Calder had been working on his
third model plane, Tribute to Mexico, when he died. His career had inspired many artists
from our time, including David Smith, John Chamberlin, Richard
Hunt, Will Edmondson, and Louise Nevelson. “My
fan mail is enormous. Everyone is under six.”