At Home with Alexander Calder

 

 In the summer of 1933, the inventor of the mobile and loquacious bon vivant Alexander Calder and his wife Louisa left their home in Paris and returned to the U.S. leaving behind their circle of friends which included artists such as Piet Mondrian, Man Ray, Fernand Léger and Kiki de Montparnasse. At the time, Hitler had denounced modern art and Europe was under the ominous threat of war.

As soon as the recently wed couple reached New York, they began their search for a new home where they could raise a family and Calder could work. After viewing several properties, they found a dilapidated eighteenth-century farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut. Both Louisa and Calder later claimed to have been the first to exclaim, “That’s it!”

 

By Mark Connolly & Kate Orne

All photographs by Herbert Matter

All images courtesy of the Calder FoundationArt Resource, NY

©2018 Calder Foundation / Artists Right Society, NY

This feature was originally published in Issue 2 — Limited copies avail.

 Calder stands at the base of  Five Rods and Nice Discs  (1936), Roxbury, 1938.

Calder stands at the base of Five Rods and Nice Discs (1936), Roxbury, 1938.

They bought the 18 acre farm for $3500 and turned the humble homestead into their own bohemian haven which over the years became filled with artworks by Calder’s contemporaries, and Calder-devised domestic objects made from simple materials that reflect his commitment to both ingenious design and aesthetic rigor.

First working in a studio converted from an adjacent icehouse. In 1938 Calder constructed a large three-story high cinder-block studio on the old dairy barn foundations. This still stands and, over time, he created inside it a tangle of drawings, models, mobiles, tools, wire and abstract paintings.

By the end of the summer of ’34 he had made his first three outdoor works; the wind-propelled standing mobiles ‘Red and Yellow Vane,’ ‘Red, White, Black and Brass,’ and ‘Steel Fish’ — all inspired by the power of nature.

The Calders remained in Roxbury for several decades and the property remains in the family.

  Five Rods and Nice Discs  (1935), Summer 1938.

Five Rods and Nice Discs (1935), Summer 1938.

“I felt art was too static to reflect our world of movement. Then, in 1930, when I visited Mondrian’s studio and saw the slabs and strips of colored cardboard he had tacked on his wall, I said to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be amusing if they oscillated?”  —  On his “aha” moment.

Louisa and Calder, Roxbury 1940.

Alexander Matter and Mary Calder, Roxbury studio, 1947.

“His work is his religion. He is always expressing his sense of pleasure and his joie de vivre. He isn’t an unhappy man. He isn’t tormented. He enjoys life.” – Louisa on her husband.

“Sculpture suggests movement, painting suggests depth or light. Calder suggests nothing. He captures true, living movements and crafts them into something. His mobiles signify nothing, refer to nothing other then themselves. They simply are; they are absolute.” — Jean-Paul Sartre while visiting Roxbury.

 Standing mobile with tools, Roxbury studio, 1947.

Standing mobile with tools, Roxbury studio, 1947.

“The underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof. For that is a rather large model to work from.”— On inspiration.

 Calder wearing  Mask  (c.1945), Roxbury studio, 1950.

Calder wearing Mask (c.1945), Roxbury studio, 1950.

“It only works if you find something as good as the shape you were about to invent. I’ve used spoons as well as bits of bottles, but you can usually make something better, perhaps basing your design on what you’ve found.” — On using found objects.

Calder with Mobile (1941) in his Roxbury studio, 1941.

Calder and his wife Louisa having lunch with Stamo Papadaki, c. 1938.

Calder with goats, c.1938.

Chairs, (c. 1935), and Untitled, (1945), Roxbury House "front room," 1950.

Forks, spoons, baby food pusher, milk skimmer, roasting pan and lid, and colander (c. 1935-48), Roxbury house kitchen, 1950.

Rack with grills and utensils (c. 1935-40), Roxbury house kitchen, 1950.

“I believe that in modern work the spectator has to bring with him more than half of the emotion. To most people who look at a mobile, its no more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry.”  — On the viewer’s contribution.

“I have made a number of things for the open air: all of them react to the wind, and are like a sailing vessel in that they react best to one kind of breeze.” — On working with the natural elements.

  Rat,  (c.1948), Roxbury house"big room", 1950.

Rat, (c.1948), Roxbury house"big room", 1950.

 Calder with  Giraffe  (1941), Roxbury 1941.

Calder with Giraffe (1941), Roxbury 1941.

“I do like the dogwood tree, perhaps because it has a shape. A shape to hang things on.” — On forms in nature.

  Moths I , (1947)  in the Roxbury studio 1947.

Moths I, (1947)  in the Roxbury studio 1947.