Arms to Untitled Standing Mobile
105 1/2 x 72 x 41 in. (268 x 182.9 x 104.1 cm)
(Lawton, PA, 1898 - 1976, New York, NY)
Medium and Support:
Iron, steel and paint
Gift of Charlotte Whitney Allen
Location: Not currently on view
Alexander Calder was one of the most important and influential sculptors of the twentieth century. He is best known for his mobiles, kinetic or moving sculptures usually painted in black and the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue.
Calder’s sculptures delight people of all ages for their charm, whimsy, and grace. If this mobile, with its rather bulky counter-weight, seems less graceful than some of Calder’s others, it may be because it is one of the earliest of his mobiles made for the outdoors. Created in 1935 of iron rather than the artist’s typical sheet metal, it is a very rare and relatively large early example. Soon after this, Calder would work in metal far less frequently. As the U.S. geared up for the World War II effort, metal became a very scarce material.
This sculpture was given to the Memorial Art Gallery by Charlotte Whitney Allen, who commissioned it in 1934 for her garden on Oliver Street in Rochester.
Charlotte Whitney Allen and her husband hired Pittsford native Fletcher Steele to design a garden for their newly built house on Oliver Street in 1915. The lot was small, ninety by two hundred feet, so Steele had to make use of interesting details to provide visual stimulation. The young landscape architect had strong notions of what would make a small backyard into a charming city oasis, which he enumerated in several articles and even a book, Design in the Little Garden. Sculpture was one such detail Steele felt was crucial to a small garden, providing it met the proper criteria. He also considered space composition a necessary factor in good garden design. Some of the traits good garden sculpture should possess, according to Steele, include substantial mass, interesting silhouette, strong light and shadow, and contrasting material and color to the foliage around it.
The Allens commissioned the French-born sculptor Gaston Lachaise in 1926 to create a figure for the focal point of their garden. In 1931, Steele discovered an American artist working in Paris on a type of sculpture the artist called 'mobiles.' These moving sculptures, by Alexander Calder, intrigued Steele and the artist and landscape architect began a friendship and steady correspondence. Calder's mobiles met Steele's garden sculpture criteria: contrasting materials and colors, substantial but delicate mass and they also provided a whole new and fascinating possibility - silhouettes that moved. In Calder's work, Steele found the manifestation of one of his primary ideas about landscape architecture - space composition, the relationship of things to each other and the spaces between them. In his mobiles, Calder allowed the elements to move freely causing those spatial relationships to change constantly, creating mass out of air, and letting shadows dance all around.
Steele brought one of Calder's mobiles to Rochester to show Mrs. Whitney Allen at the end of 1934. He seemed intent on a getting a mobile into one of his clients' gardens and apparently thought Mrs. Whitney Allen would be most open to the idea. She was quite taken with Calder's work and also became quite friendly with the artist and his wife. A group of letters housed at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio chronicles the development of their friendship.
Calder and his wife, Louisa had just returned to the States after an extended residence in France. They bought a farmhouse in Roxbury, Connecticut, and with their first baby on the way Calder was looking for exhibits, sales and commissions. He invited himself to meet with Mrs. Whitney Allen on his way back from Chicago where two exhibitions of his work were being shown. They proceeded to correspond, with Calder leaving subtle and not-so-subtle hints here and there such as "Have you ever decided about the mobile for your garden?" In another letter dated April 1st, 1935 he wrote:
"I saw Fletcher Saturday - he seemed pretty well patched up by his visit to Rochester….He seemed to think that I ought to make you an object (not water-impelled) that one might displace and then watch it seek to regain its original calm, equilibrium, and peace of mind. I think so too."
By September, she gave in and Calder and Louisa went to Rochester, to create the mobile under Mrs. Whitney Allen's supervision. Calder found iron rods and disks in a local blacksmith's shop and designed it in Rochester. It was placed at the end of the hidden allée, which was accessed by walking around the Lachaise sculpture and down a row of hedges. In his autobiography, Calder refers to Mrs. Whitney Allen's mobile as "the first object I made for out of doors." Although it now resides indoors at the Memorial Art Gallery, it was the beginning of a long line of outdoor sculpture that can be seen in public spaces around the world.
Commissioned by Charlotte Whitney Allen, Rochester, NY in 1935; bequeathed to the Gallery in 1964
See a sculpture by Gaston Lachaise commissioned for the same garden as this piece: "Fountain Figure,"
See a watercolor by Ralph Avery of the garden this sculpture was commissioned for: "The Garden of Charlotte Whitney Allen,"