Alexander Calder was a powerful inspiration. His playful kinetic art influenced me at a very young age. Calder was a very close friend of my uncle Jean who came to live next door to where my family lived in the Loire Valley. My uncle married Calder’s daughter Sandra, so I grew up very close to that family.  Calder’s  home was quite a wonder. Where as my parents lived in a more classic environment of antiques and figurative sculpture by my grandfather Jo Davidson, his house was of a more rustic and decidedly contemporary feel. Modern abstract paintings by his friend Miro, colorful Japanese kites hanging among his Mobiles and his home-made lamp shades made from cake molds. All this was a world of fascinating curiosities that attracted me irresistibly.  

This is a photo of the first time I met Alexander Calder.  I was around 4 years old and was there in Roxbury, Connecticut visiting the Calders with my mother, father (who took the photo) and my sister Eva. I remember being left alone in a room with a box of toys that Calder made.  It was great fun!

These are photos taken by my father at our Becheron home in Saché, France. The Calders were staying with us while they were remodeling their house, "François Premier", near my uncle's mill.

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My first experience in mobile-making with Alexander Calder.

  

When I was 12 years old, I spent an afternoon with Calder in his studio, watching him and playing with scraps of the aluminum he used. To this day I recall the experience vividly. The barn that served as his studio had a large expanse of glass facing west. The workbench was overcome with tools of all kinds and sizes, metal scrapings, all sorts of pliers, files, saws, drill, shears that he had retrofitted with spring wire so to have them open up by themselves. There was artwork everywhere, some waiting to be finished most already painted hanging from the ceiling, strewn about on the ground, in the corners... everywhere.

I remember watching him cutting out this very neat shape with these enormous (to my young eyes at least) shears. I loved that shape, the lines were very neat and the sharp points gave the shape a dynamic appeal. He then switched to his files and continued to refine the shape he had just carved out. He then proceeded to cut off the sharp points and rounded them with his file. When I asked why he was doing this (disappointed that in my view he had just ruined the shape) he explained that you had to soften the edges of the shapes so that people would not hurt themselves with the points or the edges. When it was time to leave, I asked if I could take home some of the scrap aluminum that was on the floor and he said it was OK.

Age thirteen in the workshop...

That evening, I took my metal scraps to my father’s workshop. I readily decided to try making one of those nifty things called Mobiles. Of course, I did not have at my disposal the tools and the full set of materials, but try I did. I failed miserably. The metal was too thick for my father's over-worn and dull shears. Most of all, I had not watched the process quite attentively enough. Where a mobile is constructed from the bottom up, my project was conducted from the top down. Whenever you add something, you have to correct every preceding balancing point. A few days later, when I shared my frustration with Calder, I was set straight. He said that you must start from the bottom! Eventually I was able to secure a couple of spools of recycled chicken wire that had all sorts of kinks and required a lot of massaging to straighten out. Later, I was enlightened to the fact that Mobiles are made with piano wire also called music wire which has spring quality and retains its given shape very well. Instead of the thicker gauges that Sandy used, I used aluminum coffee cans which were much thinner and easier to cut with my blunt old shears. My sister Eva still has one of the first mobiles I made at the time, the wire was hardly straight, the shapes are all bumpy and irregular but there is movement and some dynamics there. 

Later, I started making Mobiles for my friends and family. I even got to trade one with Max Ernst, a family friend, for one of his posters. Calder once told my mother that I had understood the linking and attachments well. Of course, that is just the rudiments of Mobile making, but it was a start. The afternoon of my fifteenth birthday, Calder handed me a very special gift, a pair of his Sargent pliers that he always had on his person.

Gouache 1975 gift to Laurent from Sandy