Alexander Calder Lioness copy.jpg

Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder (22 July 1898 – 11 November 1976), also known as Sandy Calder, was an American sculptor and artist most famous for inventing the mobile. In addition to mobile and stabile sculpture, Alexander Calder also created paintings, lithographs, toys and tapestry and designed carpets.

Born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania, on July 22, 1898, Calder came from a family of artists. His father, Alexander Stirling Calder, was a well-known sculptor who created many public installations, a majority of them located in Philadelphia. Calder’s grandfather, sculptor Alexander Milne Calder, was born in Scotland and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1868. Calder’s mother, Nanette Lederer Calder, was a professional portrait painter who studied at the Académie Julian and the Sorbonne in Paris from around 1888 until 1893. She then moved to Philadelphia where she met Alexander Stirling Calder while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.Calder’s parents were married on 22 February 1895. His older sister, Margaret “Peggy” Calder, was born in 1896. Her married name was Margaret Calder Hayes, and she was instrumental in the development of the UC Berkeley Art Museum.

In 1902, at the age of four, Calder posed nude for his father’s sculpture The Man Cubthat is now located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In that same year, he completed his earliest sculpture, a clay elephant.

Three years later, when Calder was seven and his sister was nine, Stirling Calder contracted tuberculosis and Calder’s parents moved to a ranch in Oracle, Arizona, leaving the children in the care of family friends for a year. The children were reunited with their parents in late March, 1906 and stayed at the ranch in Arizona until fall of the same year.

After Arizona, the Calder family moved to Pasadena, California. The windowed cellar of the family home became Calder’s first studio and he received his first set of tools. He used scraps of copper wire that he found in the streets to make jewelry and beads for his sister’s dolls. On January 1, 1907, Calder’s mother took him to the Tournament of Roses and he observed a four-horse-chariot race. This style of event later became the finale of Calder’s wire circus shows.



1898 Born July 22nd in Pennsylvania to a mother who is a painter, and a father who is a sculptor

1909 Parents provide Calder with a workshop at age eleven where he begins to make brass animal sculptures

1919 Graduates from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey; works as engineer at logging camp in Washington state; Pacific Northwest mountain landscapes inspire his painting

1923 Moves to New York City and attends Art Students League; studies under George Luks, Thomas Hart Benton, John Sloan, and Guy Pene du Bois; works as illustrator for newspapers and advertisers

1925 Makes illustrations of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for the National Police Gazette; employed at Central Park Zoo and Bronx Zoo; makes series of brush drawings of animals; constructs his first wire sculpture

1926 Attends Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris

1926 Meets Stanley William Hayter, exhibits at the Salon des Indépendants

1930 Visit to Mondrian’s studio results in Calder adopting complete abstraction; returns to United States to marry Louisa James

1931 Calders settle in Paris; Duchamp visits Calder’s studio and calls his moving sculptures “mobiles”; Calder meets Picasso

1933 Spends summer in Paris, meets Salvador Dali; returns to the States and buys house in Roxbury, Connecticut; undertakes large renovation of house and adds adjoining studio

1934 Constructs first outdoor sculpture; the first of several solo exhibitions at Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York

1937 Makes first sculpture enlarged from a maquette; commissioned to create an installation for the Spanish Pavillion of the World’s Fair in Paris; summers in Varengeville, France; house guests include Joan Miro, Georges Braque, Ben Nicholson, and Barbara Hepworth

1939 Commissioned to make mobile installed in main stairwell of Museum of Modern Art, New York

1949 Constructs largest mobile to date, hung over main stairwell of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

1952 Participates in Venice Biennale and awarded grand prize for sculpture

1957 – 1958 Receives several commissions for large-scale public sculpture, including a mobile for JFK Airport commissioned by Port Authority of New York and a stabile for UNESCO Paris headquarters

1967 – 1968 Sculpture commissions for Expo ’67 in Montreal and 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City

1976 Dies November 11th  

Selected Exhibitions 

2008 Alexander Calder: Gouaches, Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York City, NY

2008 Alexander Calder Jewlery, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL

2007 Focus: Alexander Calder, MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY

2006 The Surreal Calder, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA

2005 Alexander Calder, Samuel Vanhoegaerden Gallery, Knokke-Heist

2004 Alexander Calder, Kukje Gallery, Seoul

2002 Calder: Four Maquettes, Two Stabiles and a Little Bird Too, Ameringer Fine Arts, New York, September – October 2002

1976 Retrospective at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

1963 – 1964 Calder gouache show at Perls Gallery, New York; retrospective at Guggenheim Museum, New York

1962 Retrospective at Tate Gallery, London

1956 Solo show with new dealer, Klaus Perls

1950 Solo shows include: Galerie Maeght, Paris, and retrospective at Masachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

1943 Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art; solo show at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts

1932 Solo exhibition at Julien Levy Gallery, New York

1929 Galerie Billiet gives Calder’s first solo show in Paris

1928 First show of wire animals and caricature portraits held at Weyhe Gallery, New York

1926 First painting exhibition at the Artist’s Gallery, New York