Alexander Calder and his circus

Alexander Calder, Little Clown, the Trumpeteer, from Calder’s Circus, 1926–31. Wire, cloth, paint, yarn, thread, rhinestone buttons, electrical tape, rubber tubing, and metal horn, 12 × 3 1/2 × 3 in. (30.5 × 8.9 × 7.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from a public fundraising campaign in May 1982. One half of the funds were contributed by the Robert Wood Johnson Jr. Charitable Trust. Additional major donations were given by The Lauder Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation Inc., the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation Inc., an anonymous donor, The T.M. Evans Foundation Inc., MacAndrews & Forbes Group Incorporated, the De Witt Wallace Fund Inc., Martin and Agneta Gruss, Anne Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. Laurance S. Rockefeller, the Simon Foundation Inc., Marylou Whitney, Bankers Trust Company, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth N. Dayton, Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz, Irvin and Kenneth Feld, Flora Whitney Miller. More than 500 individuals from 26 states and abroad also contributed to the campaign  83.36.8a-d© 2009 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photograph © Whitney Museum of American ArtRoll up! roll up! Come and see some amazing children’s picture books full of the creativity of artists and inventors….

Books like The Day-Glo Brothers about the two brothers that gave us Day-Glo paint:


Or A River of Words about the poet William Carlos Williams:

I came across another recently. It’s called Sandy’s Circus, and it’s about the sculptor Alexander Calder:

This is about just one part of Calder’s amazing creativity – when he was in Paris and created a circus out of wire and bits and bobs. Here’s a video of him with the circus later in life:



As a boy, his parents always made sure “Sandy” had a workshop and tools.

He made his friends toys and jewellery from scraps of wood, leather and wire he would pick off the street. Sandy built his sister Peggy a castle for her doll – complete with a moat! He and Peggy made toy animals and played circus in the workshop.

The next year, 1926, he decided to go to Paris. Why Paris? Because that city was alive with art. And Sandy said, “In Paris it’s a compliment to be called crazy.” Sandy rode through the streets of Paris on his orange bicycle. He carried a roll of wire around his shoulder and a pair of pliers in his pocket.

When Sandy bumped into a friend, out came the wire and pliers. He would twist and bend and curl while he chatted. And before they said adieu, Sandy would give his friend a gift – voila! A small portrait of the person – made of wire.

The wire pictures are a bit like the ones he drew for a version of Aesop I have illustrated by him.

And I hadn’t realised that Alexander Calder invented the mobile (as in the hanging sculpture, not the portable telephone of course). It seems so ubiquitous and… obvious, that the thought of it being invented so recently is strange.

Here’s someone with a very long spoon actuating a couple of Calder’s mobiles:

And here’s one self-actuated:

“All Calders tend to make someone happy”:


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