Backstory: Family Circus


It was November 5, 1964, the day before my grandfather Alexander Calder’s show opened at the Guggenheim. My grandparents had probably come to pick up my parents for the preview and to say hi to us kids. That’s why Calder is dressed up; he didn’t wear ties except for openings and parties. You can also tell that my grandmother, Louisa, is ready to go out. She’s wearing an obsidian brooch that my grandfather made. The brooch was stolen from her Paris hotel room a few years after this photo was taken, which was strange because in those days Calder jewelry wasn’t valuable. It was funky stuff, not diamonds and platinum. Louisa is also wearing Calder earrings, a choker, two bracelets, and her wedding ring, which he made for her in 1930. She and my mother and my aunt wore his jewelry every single day.

Ugo Mulas, a fantastic photographer who died young of cancer, took the photo in my mother’s kitchen on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. Ugo probably met my grandfather via Giovanni Carandente, the commissioner of an art festival in Spoleto, Italy, which Calder was very involved with in 1958 and ’62. He would follow Calder around and take photos of him at work, at openings, and at home. We all loved Ugo; he just hung out with us, as if he were part of the family. He published a really beautiful book in 1971, documenting Calder’s later years.

My grandfather bought this house for my parents just after they were married, and we moved in when I was about nine months old. It’s part of the MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District. All the townhouses in this section of the block share a communal garden that is not open to the street, so it was a really safe place for kids to grow up. When my mother passed away five years ago, I moved in with my family.

I have lots of very clear early childhood memories of my grandfather’s art. There’s a sculpture called Two Spheres Within a Sphere from 1931. It has a wooden base with two intersecting wire circles that sort of imply a sphere. There are two wooden balls-one red and one blue-inside the sphere, and a crank you turn to make the balls circulate. This tremendously curious object was in my grandparents’ house in Connecticut, and I remember it from when I was about two or three. I was allowed to turn the crank, but I never saw it as a toy. When I was older, I’d work with my grandfather in his studios in Connecticut and in Saché, France. I liked to make all kinds of weapons there: swords, shields, fake guns. He enjoyed having the grandkids in the studio-as long as we were working and not screwing around.



ALEXANDER S.C. ROWER is chairman and president of the Calder Foundation, New York.