PArIS: A FAmIly legACy
Alexander “Sandy” Calder (
),just shy o twenty-eight years old, arrivedin Paris in July
by way o England,making the transatlantic journey byworking on a reighter. Both o his parentswere artists who had studied in Paris. Inthe
s his mother, Nanette Lederer(
), a painter, attended theAcadémie Julien and the Sorbonne aterher studies at Philadelphia’s PennsylvaniaAcademy o Fine Arts; his ather, sculptorAlexander Stirling Calder (
),studied at the Académie Julien and theÉcole des Beaux Arts, ater also training atthe Academy. Following their individualtrips, they met at the PennsylvaniaAcademy, where she again was studyingand to which he had returned rom Paristo become an instructor o anatomy.Calder’s sister Margaret (known as“Peggy”) wrote, “amily legend has it thatFather and Mother met over a cadaver.”
They married in
, and returned toParis or a short time. Peggy was born inParis in
; Sandy was born two yearslater in Lawnton, Pennsylvania.Calder’s paternal grandather, Alexan-der Milne Calder (
), had alsovisited and worked in Paris and studiedat the Pennsylvania Academy; he wascelebrated in the
s or his colossalpublic sculptures, among them a
-oot-high gure o William Penn,installed atop Philadelphia’s City Hall in
which remains a landmark today.Working on sculpture commissions in-volved requent travel or Calder’s ather,who at times relocated his amily as well,and intermittently experienced nancialinsecurity. His son was not initially drawnto a lie’s work as an artist.Calder had heard o the proessiono mechanical engineering rom aschoolmate at high school in SanFrancisco. Ater graduating, he attendedthe Stevens Institute o Technologyin Hoboken, New Jersey, where hestudied engineering principles thatwould have important implications orhis later sculptures. Calder received hisdegree in mechanical engineering romStevens in
and held numerousengineering-related and other odd jobsbetween then and
, but none wasvery satisying. During a hiatus betweenjobs in
he took night classes indrawing in Manhattan. “I became veryenthusiastic—more so than in any othero my post-college ventures so ar—and Iattended consistently,” he later recalled.
The ollowing year, ater the last o thesejobs at a logging camp in Independence,Washington, Calder returned East tostudy at New York’s Art Students League.
NeW york: SeeINg the CItyWIth “SANdy” CAlder
Calder studiedlie and pictorial composition with JohnSloan, portrait painting with GeorgeLuks, head and gure painting withWilliam Pène du Bois, and lie drawing
with Boardman Robinson.
Caldercredited Robinson or encouraging histalents in drawing with a single line, atechnique in which the drawing implementdoes not leave the paper. His acility at linedrawing led to his newspaper illustrationwork or the
National Police Gazette
, and the
New York Times
others. Calder’s fuid drawingenlivened the renderings o animals thathe made during visits to New York’sCentral Park and Bronx zoos (g. 1)and that were published in his teachingmanual
), orwhich he also wrote the texts.
Like his teachers, Calder took as hissubjects scenes rom everyday lie. Heexhibited in group shows in New York,including a painting o a circus sideshowin an early exhibition at the downtownWhitney Studio Club, a precursor to theWhitney Museum o American Art. Hiscity views reveal his engineer’s eye and ananity or movement—ideas he woulddevelop in new materials and new orms inParis. There his drawn line, transormedto lengths o ordinary wire, would becomewhat he called “wire sculpture (or three-dimensional drawing).”
ArrIvAl IN PArIS
Calder gave ew reasons or his decisionto go to Paris; simply put: “Paris wasthe place to go, on all accounts o practically everyone who had been there,and I decided I would also like to go.”
Paris during the
” (the crazy years)—was a citystill recovering rom the great loss o lie and economic devastation o WorldWar I yet it remained the abled city o many liberties—social, sexual, political,racial, and cultural. By comparison,Calder’s homeland o the UnitedStates was, in the “Roaring Twenties,”unharmed by war and experiencing abuoyant economic upswing, but acedincreasing isolationism, racial divides,and conservatism (indeed Puritanism, asProhibition came into eect in
andwasn’t rescinded until
). Once inParis, as we know rom his letters, Calderthought the city a destination or an artistwhose ambition was “to arrive,” andwhere he hoped to exhibit, sell, and gaincritical attention or his work.
Fig. 1. Untitled (Monkey), 1925. Ink on paper, 5 9/16 x 3 3/4 in. (14.1 x 9.5 cm).Calder Foundation, New York