Extraordinary spatial design solutions by Calder were adored by the artists patroness Peggy Guggenheim, actress and singer Nichelle Nichols, feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir. The sculptor’s jewellery became particularly popular in the 1930s and 40s.
Peggy Guggenheim in her bedroom at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. On the wall are earrings designed by Alexander Calder for her. Venice, early 1950s © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, photo by CameraphotoEpoche Archive
At that time many people in the art scene wanted to be hip, stylish, in the loop. The owners of Calder’s fantastically voluminous, large, intriguing jewellery have shocked artistic parties.
Margaret Sheville wearing a brass wire necklace by Alexander Calder
Jewellery the sculptor made of simple wire was not expensive at first. They could be afforded by any lady, it cost 5 to 25 dollars. However, during the Great Depression, these were quite solid sums: Americans paid 8 cents for a pound of bread, a pound of steak cost 36 cents, and a dozen eggs 33 cents. Sales of contemporary art were very poor. You could say that jewellery sales kept Calder afloat during this period.
Expanding the sales market, Sandy Calder began collaborating with gallery owner Marian Guthrie Willard, and on 8 December 1940 in New York, Willard Gallery hosted his first jewellery exhibition, which was a great success. It was before Christmas and the prices were quite reasonable. Exactly one year later, Willard and Calder held another pre-Christmas exhibition, and it went great too.
1.2. 1940 necklace, sold at Sotheby’s on 11 May 2005 for $ 318,400.
Alexander Calder in his Paris workshop. 1930
Calder has always had excellent spatial thinking and engineering flair. He made strides in mathematics, mechanics and drafting. Friends loved Sandy for his cheerfulness, smile and easy disposition, considering him “one of the most good-natured people”. After graduation, Calder worked for Edison company, managed to see the world, working as a mechanic on a steamer. One day he came to Aberdeen to visit his sister Margaret — the same one for whose dolls he made jewellery as a child. Having got a job there in a logging company, Calder once became so much inspired by the mountain landscape that he wanted to capture it on canvas. Thus Sandy returned to the desire to become an artist and went to New York, where he began making up for the lost years of creativity, studying under different masters.
Alexander Calder and sculptures from his Calder’s Circus project. Paris. 1930
Photo: George Hoyningen-Huene © 2018 Calder Foundation, New York / Copyright Agency, Australia Source
“Calder survived two world wars and was an active opponent of the Vietnam War; because of this position he refused to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but at the same time several events really changed his life: two weeks spent at the Ringlin Brothers Circus, a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian and the sunrise along one horizon line with the full moon on the other...” — the biographical sketch about the artist in Arthive.
In 1926, Calder went to Paris and enrolled at the Accademia Garnd Chaumier. Now his studio was in Montparnasse, and among his friends were the famous avant-garde artists Marcel Duchamp, Jean Arp, Fernand Léger. Sandy created his first unique project — miniature stylized figures of circus and animals, made of wire and all kinds of materials at hand. In 1929, the Calder Circus project was presented at the sculptor’s solo exhibition at the Billiet Gallery in Paris.
In 1930, Calder got to the studio of Piet Mondrian, which prompted him to create kinetic mechanical figures. However, the monotony of the spatial figures mechanisms soon bored Calder. He developed his ideas by allowing his sculptures to obey the unpredictable movement of air masses or external influences. This is how the famous “mobiles” by Alexander Calder appeared.
Developing mobility and immobility, the sculptor moved on to heavy large objects, which Jean Arp called stabiles. Throughout his career, Calder created large abstract spatial sculptures, many of which still adorn the streets and squares of American cities.
1.2. Alexander Calder. Flamingo. 1973. Chicago
In 1929, on a steamer sailing from Paris to New York, Calder met a charming girl named Louise James. They married two years later, and returned to America in 1933. In 1935, the Calders had a daughter, Sandy, and in 1939, another daughter, Mary.
Louise Calder wearing a necklace designed by her husband. 1930s
But back to the jewellery. Copper wire became the first material for his experiments. He created his intricate large pieces and gifted them to his friends. The master used brass and steel, later silver, as well as everything that came to hand and corresponded to the idea that came into Calder’s cheerful engineering head. Some of his works bore the imprint of hot Africa, its patterns and symbols, which the sculptor loved very much. He got ideas for other items from his trip to India, which he visited with his wife Louise in 1955.
Calder created more than 2 thousand pieces of jewellery, and many of them became gifts for his friends. For example, Joan Miró got a copper ring, into which a piece of porcelain was embedded. Calder’s bizarre jewellery was owned by a close friend of the artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Marc Chagall’s wife, Bella, and Luis Buñuel’s wife, Jeanne. At the opening of one of the exhibitions in 1942, Peggy Guggenheim decided to clearly demonstrate to the public that she equally loved surrealism and abstraction. Therefore, she wore one earring “by Calder” and one “by Yves Tanguy”. Later, Calder created a wrought-iron headboard for Peggy, which was decorated with glittering fish.
1.2. Peggy Guggenheim in her bedroom, headboard by Alexander Calder
You can find out more about the works and life of the unique sculptor on the website dedicated to his work.
Calder’s designs cost hundreds of thousands of dollars today. In 2013, Sotheby’s auctioned a collection of the Makler family, which included 18 pieces of jewellery: brooches, bracelets, earrings and necklaces. With a preliminary total estimate of $ 1.9 — $ 2.7 million, the proceeds from the sale of all collection items were 8 million.
And this necklace was bought in 2005 at a flea market in Philadelphia for $ 15. Only three years later, its owner, Norma Ifill, found out that her favourite thing could be a work created by Alexander Calder. It turned out that the necklace was genuine, and was even exhibited in 1943 at the New York Museum of Modern Art. The jewellery was sold at Christie’s in 2013 for $ 267,750.
Alexander Calder in Paris. 1953. Photographer Agnes Varda. © 2018 Calder Foundation, New York / SODRAC, Montreal Source
Cheerful, lively, hardworking and inventive was Alexander Calder, who gave the world air mobiles and heavy-weight sculpture stabiles, and presented women a way to express themselves with unusual jewellery.
Main illustration: Photo collage: 1 and 3 — photos by Alexander English for Louisa Guinness Gallery, 2016. 2 — Actress Angelica Houston wearing Alexander Calder’s necklace. 1976. Evelyn Hofer, © 2016 Calder Foundation, New York, Photo © Estate of Evelyn Hofer