Calder at Home

Pedro E. Guerrero’s Calder at Home, a collection of intimate anecdotes and photographs of the sculptor Alexander "Sandy" Calder (1898-1976) and his work, is a fresh look at an artist who imbued his creations with humor and intelligence. Guerrero, an 80 year old photographer, chronicles his friendship with Calder during the last 13 years of the artist’s life and reveals Calder’s unbridled passion. Everything was touched and transformed by Calder’s imagination, from his studios to his living room.

Calder, world renowned for creating the mobile, spent a lifetime producing thousands of abstract steel sculptures and paintings, textiles, toys and anything else that grabbed his attention. After the now defunct Braniff airlines commissioned him to paint a fleet of planes, his multi-colored vision graced the skies.

Calder’s close friends and contemporaries included Miro, Leger and Tamayo. Retrospectives of his work have been in museums such as the Whitney Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.

Guerrero met the portly Roxbury, Conn. artist in 1963 when he was sent by House & Garden to take photographs for a potential article entitled A Man’s Influence in the Kitchen. Calder’s bare bones country kitchen and his whimsical metal utensils were not what the magazine was looking for, but a lasting relationship between Guerrero and his subject was born. The Connecticut photographer’s pictures of Calder have appeared in numerous books and exhibitions.

"Sandy taught me to be myself, and his enthusiasm and joy were a constant inspiration," writes Guerrero. "In the two decades since Sandy died, I have yet to encounter such a creative force who has had such a lasting impact on my life."

The highlight of the book is its personal look at the "stout man of middle height with bright blue eyes in a round face, under a shock of unruly hair." The reader is spared esoteric pretenses, which Calder abhorred, and is invited to share in the artist’s daily routines. Calder usually went to his studio early in the morning. He took a quick lunch of bread that his wife Louisa baked, a slab of cheese and red wine. After a fast look at the paper, he returned to his studio and did not emerge until dinnertime.

The massive studio appears to be a mess of metal and tools, but Calder had his own order in the chaos and would shift between projects when the urge struck him. He adored his wife and would stop doing his work to make her anything she needed, from trays to soup spoons. When his granddaughter, Sandra, visited, all his attention was focused on her, and Guerrero’s photos splendidly show Calder’s joy. Informal gatherings with his friends were another passion.

The jovial artist also was brutally honest. At a dinner, he fell asleep at the table, and when the woman next to him complained that only reason she sat by him was because she had heard he was a great conversationalist, he suddenly awoke and said he wouldn’t have fallen asleep is she wasn’t such a bore.

Calder at Home is enthralling because it frees his work from the sterile confines of a museum and lets the reader experience a sculptor making his art and living surrounded by it. Instead of being aloof modernist sculptures, the pieces are endowed with humanity.

We see Calder happily laboring with a crew of three to install a 20 ft. mobile in his backyard. The ethereal structure is made of triangular cuts of metal that seem to float while attached to a colossal pyramid base. In contrast, Guerrero writes, "Carrying out a seemingly impossible task, he painted a small mobile – his large, powerful, pudgy hands dwarfing the tiny pieces." Large steel creations or stabiles, which come in a variety of colors, dot the landscape of his rural farm and are breathtaking. The irresistible wire and glass necklaces he made for his wife are displayed on the wall behind her wooden dresser. A toilet seat is embellished with a face he painted. Nothing in the simple but inviting home escaped Calder’s vision, and Guerrero’s engrossing book captures it all.

Sherry Akbar