Friday, February 29, 2008

The other Alexander Calder

Everyone knows Alexander Calder: even if you have never heard the name, you have definitively seen his works. The famous mobiles, with their abstract geometric forms and colours, have been a part of our collective unconscious for years now. One of my favourites is below:

An American pioneer, showing a talent for sculpture at the early age of 11, he studied mechanical engineering, physics and kinetics, later creating exquisite wind driven mobiles and motorized devices, in addition to painting and sculpture.

Alexander Calder in his workshop

What most people who admire Calder do not know however is that he had designed and made exquisite fantasy, one of a kind jewellery. Only slightly more than 1800 of them were made, all unique and beautiful, strange exercises for the imagination.

This photograph by Evelyn Hofer of model Angelica Huston wearing Calder's spectacular "The Jealous Husband,” a circa 1940 brass wire necklace, appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in 1976. Esteemed critic Hilton Kramer wrote that the object has "the humour of mock aggression and shameless self-assertion.”

He made almost every kind of personal decoration, not just necklaces, rings and shirt studs but also metal crowns, ponchos, breastplates, even a pair of Groucho Marx-esque glasses complete with bobbling nose. And, like his sculpture, he showed his talents in this early on too: at eight years of age, he began fabricating baubles and trinkets for his sister΄s dolls and toys.

This curvilinear gold and steel wire pin was given by Calder to his wife, Louisa, as a 53rd birthday gift in 1958. The inscription, "XIX.II.L.VIII,” marks the date. This spectacular piece measures 2½ by 5¼ inches. Private collection, New York. ©2007 Calder Foundation, New York City.

Being a whimsical character, his jewellery could not of course be anything but ironic in spirit: an early piece, made for fashion designer Elizabeth Hawes, was a wire chastity belt with the French cafe motto "ouvert la nuit", or "open at night" written on it. Or naming the huge necklace sported by Angelica Huston on the cover of New York Times Magazine in 1976, "The Jealous Husband".

Calder hand crafted this "Necklace” around 1943 for his wife; it is inscribed "Calder.” It is made of silver wire, string and ribbon, with the loop 15¾ inches around. Private collection, New York. ©2007 Calder Foundation, New York City.

Some of the jewellery Calder made for his family played with letters and words, like his first gift to his future wife, Louisa: a brass bracelet made of hammered wire shaped into the word "Medusa" as he nicknamed her for her curly hair.

Calder often incorporated "primitive” touches into his work. The closely laid, parallel strips of flattened silver wire of this "Bracelet,” circa 1948, may have been inspired by his knowledge of ornamental objects worn by African tribesmen. Private collection. ©2007 Calder Foundation, New York City.

There is an exhibition, "Calder Jewellery" opening this month at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., then travelling to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (July 12–October 19); Metropolitan Museum of Art (December 8–March 1, 2009) and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (March 31–June 22, 2009). Its catalogue, a massive 225-page volume compiled by Alexander S. C. Rower, who directs the Calder Foundation, his brother, the artist Holton Rower; and his sister-in-law, the photographer Maria Robledo is published by Yale University Press in association with the Calder Foundation and the Norton Museum.

In this "Pin” or "Brooch,” fashioned around 1945, Calder twisted silver and steel wire into a characteristically idiosyncratic shape. It is 4¼ by 6¾ inches. Private collection. ©2007 Calder Foundation, New York City.

©2007 Calder Foundation, New York City - photo captions ©2008 Antiques and the Arts Online

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