Calder’s First Sculptures

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Alexander Calder was a precocious child. Considering his upbringing—his mother was a painter and his father was a sculptor—it is perhaps no surprise that Calder exhibited early talent. Art studio space was always part of the Calder home, and as a young boy he was always encouraged to experiment and create. Calder presented his first two sculptures, a small duck and a small dog, both made from bent brass, to his parents as Christmas presents in 1909. At only eleven years old, his skills were already apparent.

Calder and his mother c 1900

Calder and his mother c 1900

Calder c 1900

The penchant that Calder exhibited in manipulating materials, like metal, was remarkable, even at such a young age. These first two sculptures betray some of the fundamental interests that Calder would continue to expand upon later in his life’s extensive art practice. The two sculptures are built from simple geometric shapes. The duck is even kinetic, rocking back and forth on the rounded surface of its semi-circular body. One of his most extensive sculptural installations, Cirque Calder, created over a decade after these first two sculptures, is composed of tiny sculptures of performers, animals, and props to create a grand scene of a circus. The miniature scale of Cirque Calder’s individual elements hark back to his first ever small animal figurines. His stint with Oshkosh Toy Company in the 1920s resulted in a Calder-designed line of toys that share the child-like forms and interest in movement that his first ever sculptures also exhibited.

These first two sculptures were strong precursors to the kind of work that Calder would become famous for. These first sculptures display a remarkable consistency in the strength of Calder’s artistic eye and are a wonderful look at the mind of young artist.

Left: Calder, Dog (1909), brass

Right: Calder, Duck (1909), brass

Calder’s miniature figurine in Cirque Calder

Calder’s toy designs with Oshkosh Toy Company, c. 1927