The world knows Alexander Calder as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, but in 1927, he was best known as the son of Alexander Stirling Calder, a well-known sculptor who was commissioned to sculpt the woodwork and the fountain surround in the Museum’s Ellen Crane Memorial Room.
Though trained as an engineer, Alexander Calder began to focus on making art soon after graduating from college. Even as a boy, Calder enjoyed tinkering with bits of wire to make imaginative toys with moving parts. As an entrepreneurial effort to make a living as an artist, he created a series of playful wooden pull toys for children, eventually finding a company willing to manufacture them. The Gould Manufacturing Company, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, marketed a line of “futuristic toys for advanced kiddies” based on the Calder prototypes.
Calder employed levers, cranks, and a variety of wheels in these toys, giving the fanciful animals and colorful shapes in each toy their own unique type of movement. The seal bobs up and down because it has eccentric wheels, meaning that the axle connecting the wheels is not placed in the center of the wheels, but off-center. This causes the seal’s head to act as a lever, nodding up and down, causing the ball on its nose to bounce up and down. The duck toy includes a crank shaft attached to the axle to create a similar nodding movement. The bear features eccentric wheels with the axle connected to the top of one wheel and the bottom of the other, producing a wobbling or skating motion.
In the 1930s the Berkshire Museum gave the young Calder his first public commission, a pair of mobiles designed for the Museum’s new theater. These pieces, which were recently conserved, still hang in their original niches on either side of the theater’s stage.
Reproduction, including downloading of Calder works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists rights society (ARS), New York.