Saturday, October 31, 2009

How I found Alexander Calder's Roxbury Home

I've always been fascinated about Alexander Calder's home and studio in Roxbury Connecticut.

It's been a curiosity largely fueled by books such as "Calder's Universe", "Calder in Connecticut" and "Calder at Home" that show amazing photographs of the huge studio cluttered with wire, sheet metal, tools, and hundreds of mobiles and stabiles in various stages of completion; not to mention the collection of sculptures scattered across the property, and the old farmhouse (which Calder renovated and painted flat black) decorated with cozy hooked rugs made by Louisa and a plethora of Calder's art and handiwork in every nook and cranny.

I'd love to see it.

Unfortunately, although the property is still owned by the Calder Family, it is not open to the public, and I can only speculate about what is left there and what kind of condition it is in. But I'd be happy to just drive by it, if I ever had the chance.

Well I had that chance last year when my wife and I drove from our home in northeast Ohio to Old Saybrook, Connecticut to visit relatives. Our route led east on interstate 84, where we would be passing about 10 miles south of Roxbury. Perhaps we could make a quick detour and see if we could spot the old place!

The only problem was that I had no idea where it was. ..none of my Calder books listed an address or even a street name. I called the Roxbury Chamber of Commerce to inquire, and the person I spoke to confirmed that the house was privately owned and not available for a tour. She wasn't sure exactly where it was located. I even sent a couple emails to a few places , but received no response. So I gave up on the idea. Maybe someday I would have another chance and would know where to find the house. Better yet, maybe the Calder Foundation would turn it into a museum. I must admit that I felt a bit sad as we drove past that exit on I-84.

I pretty much forgot about trying to find the house until I spotted this item on the internet today.

It's a map to the house. I'm pretty sure it's accurate... it was drawn by Calder himself!

Using this drawing as my guide, I went to Google Maps and found the area where Painter Hill Road intersects with Rt. 47.

Calder noted that the house was about 1.5 miles west of the intersection. I measured this off and put a red dot at the approximate location.  You can see that the bend in the road wasn't quite as sharp as Calder drew it.

Then I noticed that the "Street View" feature on Google Maps was available for Painter Hill Rd.
That was really fortunate. "Street View" allows you to see 360 degree panoramic views taken from street level - essentially the same thing you would see if you were driving down the road.  If I was lucky, the house might be visible from the street!

I went back to my books and found this great picture of the Roxbury House in "Calder's Universe". All I had to do was turn on the Street View in Google Maps and make my way down Painter Hill Road until I found it.

Here it is!

Here's a closer look. The hedge is a bit overgrown, but I'm so glad to see that it looks the same as it did when Calder lived there.

Here's a view to the left of the house. Notice the three windows on the large building.

Compare them to the room in the photo below. It's the old studio! I wonder what is inside of it now?

Google Street View has low resolution pictures. I wish I could read these signs...

Here's a view to the right of the house. You can see a black stabile there.

Going further to the west, you can clearly see Calder's "Southern Cross" .
Hey, the gate is open - let's go check it out!

I guess it might seem a bit silly, but I really enjoyed discovering this on Google Maps.
It's the next best thing to actually being there.  I don't know if I'll ever get the chance again, but if I do, this time I will know exactly where to find it.

If you'd like to check this out for yourself, go to Google Maps and search for:
"306 Painter Hill Road Roxbury Connecticut"

Find the yellow man icon by the zoom bar and drag him over to the highway next to the "A" balloon. Then click on the arrow buttons to move down the road and control your viewpoint.

Have fun exploring, but please keep in mind if you actually visit the area, this is a PRIVATE RESIDENCE.  Be respectful of the privacy of it's occupants, and do not under any circumstances enter the property.

PS: If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy this post

Friday, October 23, 2009

This is a stick up...hand over your Warhol!

The LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) has an impressive web site that contains many useful and informative features such as a blog, crime maps, community information, special bulletins, and crime reporting tools.

It also features something that is rather unique: a sub-section that is devoted to their “Art Theft Detail”; a unit of two detectives that are responsible for the investigation of all thefts and burglaries where Fine Art is the primary object of attack. The detail also investigates fakes, frauds, and forgeries involving art. It is the only full-time municipal law enforcement unit in the United States devoted to the investigation of art crimes.

The website boasts that the detail has recovered $77,563,992 in stolen art properties since 1993.

Here you will find crime alerts, a list of all current investigations, tips on fakes that are in circulation, and summaries of some really fascinating cases that are well worth reading. I really enjoyed It’s a Sad Day, Charlie Brown, a gripping tale of stolen animation art.

The list of stolen items includes ancient artifacts, fine art, collectibles, and even movie props! Virtually every major artist is represented.

I noticed this posting for a stolen Alexander Calder stabile, “Little Roxbury”:

Also this piece by Brad Howe, one of my favorite artists:

How does someone sneak off with a 96 inch tall sculpture mounted on a stainless steel pedestal?

I'll admit that I looked, but I didn’t see any of my mobiles listed there. I guess that you know you’ve made it as an artist when one of your works is listed on the LAPD’s Art Theft Detail. It's probably more likely that I'll be listed as a suspect on one of their crime bulletins someday...

It would be really cool if somehow all of these items could be recovered and then displayed together in a special museum collection!

link to: LAPD Art Theft Detail

I wonder what Sgt. Joe Friday would have thought about all this? Somehow, I don't think he would have been much of a Warhol fan...

Friday, October 2, 2009

David Carter - pop-up artist

Photo by Manny Crisostomo - The Sacramento Bee

Here's an interesting article that appeared in The Sacramento Bee about the Pop-Up book artist David Carter, probably most famous for his book "The 12 Bugs of Christmas".

I refer to him as an artist, because having watched the video (be sure to also look him up on YouTube) of his latest creations, it is evident that he is taking Pop-Up books into the realm of abstract art.

He describes being influenced by Alexander Calder in the interview.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Calder's Jewelry

Here's a nice article on NPR from 2008 about Alexander Calder's jewelry.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sandy!

Today is the anniversary of Alexander Calder's birthday;
he was born on July 22nd, 1898.

Why not celebrate by baking a cake?
I'll bet you could find a good recipe in The Joy of Cooking.
And if you look closely, you might notice a little anecdote about my favorite artist!

Monday, July 6, 2009

A visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art

We took a trip into Cleveland yesterday to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum has been undergoing a major renovation and expansion since 2001 and has been essentially CLOSED for years. It's been a bit like having a good friend locked up in jail. But as the expected completion date of 2012 draws near several areas and wings that have been completed have been reopened to the public.

The new East Wing, which holds the museum's outstanding collection of modern and contemporary art and photography, recently opened on Father's Day and I was excited to visit it because it is my favorite section of the museum, and I expected that the Calder mobile that was acquired just before the construction began (which I had never seen) would be on display.

I was not disappointed. Most of my old favorites were there, and there were some wonderful surprises as well; some great pieces by Claus Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and Lee Krasner that I had never seen before, as well as TWO pieces by Alexander Calder: a medium-size mobile entitled "Two Systems" and a fine stabile named "White Loops and Red Spiral on Black". Neither one of them was showing any movement at all. I tried to lean close and blow on the stabile to get it moving but I set off some type of laser alarm that started beeping until I stepped back. In fact, various beeping alarms were going off in that gallery for the entire time that we were inside it, and it was a bit annoying.

The mobile was fairly complicated.

I really loved the base of the stabile.

My wife mentioned something that had struck me before about many of the Calder pieces that I have seen in museums - the paint looks horrible. On the stabile, the "white loops" had taken on an ugly yellowish cast as if they had suffered the abuse of a heavy cigar smoker for many years. And I noticed that in some spots the workmanship was a bit shoddy, especially on the mobile, I saw some sloppy painting and crude metal work. Calder was a prodigious artist and I think that he worked very fast, especially on pieces that he may have considered minor.

Even so, there is still something wonderful and amazing about his work, even when it shows some wear and tear and isn't the best that he has done. I could make an exact copy of that mobile and make the paint job absolutely perfect, and it still wouldn't look as great as the motionless Calder ones that were in the museum. That is a lesson that I have to remember - craftsmanship is important, but it is not paramount.

Another highlight of the trip was seeing the famous George Bellows boxing painting "Stag at Sharkey’s". This is a painting that we always admire every time that we visit, but we were excited to see it again because my daughter Bridget wrote a class report on Bellows this year and we learned a lot about him and this painting. The true name is "Stag Night at Sharkey’s" (i.e, men only). It is an amazing action painting.

One disappointment was the new cafe, which I hope is just a transitional thing during the construction. It's the first thing you see as you enter the museum (ugh), and it has absolutely no character and crappy food. I missed the old cafeteria that used to overlook the courtyard filled with sculptures by Snelson and Moore, the great coffee, heavy china, and tasty sandwiches.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Make a survival whistle from a soda can

I love making things out of sheet metal, so when I found this video on YouTube demonstrating how to make a survival whistle out of a soda can I had to give it a try. I was surprised at how easy and how well it worked! It's a very simple and clever design, and once you've made one I'm pretty sure that you will remember how to do it forever.

A great way to impress your friends, or call for help if you ever get lost in the woods!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Typographic Mobiles by Ebon Heath

I really love these hanging mobiles by Ebon Heath, which range from hand-cut Tyvek or bristol to laser-cut acrylic. He refers to this as his "stereo.type" project and his intent is to liberate Type from the confines of a flat page and give it physicality: life, movement, and form.

I'm very impressed with the creativity and beauty of Ebon's work.

You can find more information about him here:

and here:

Thursday, May 28, 2009


There is a new documentry out about the life of Alexander Calder. It has been produced and directed by the French film maker François Lévy-Kuentz. The film is entitled: "CALDER, SCULPTEUR DE L'AIR"

The film features interviews, archival film clips and footage of Calder's sculptures to highlight the innovative nature of his work and includes a lot of historical film material to visualise the cultural and social background of his era.

The film has been dubbed with English narration and the US premire of the film was held at the Whitney Museum on February 26th, 2009.

It appears that this film may contain some new footage and interviews that would be of interest to Calder fans. Hopefully the film will become available on DVD at some point as there are only a few video documentaries of Calder's work that are currently available.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

George Rickey Video

The following video was produced by Public Art Indy and the Arts Council of Indianapolis for the George Rickey exhibit that is running through September 7th. For more information check out the Public Art Indy site:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

SFMOMA debuts new rooftop sculpture garden

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is debuting a new rooftop sculpture garden - a great idea! 

It opens tomorrow. It features a great stabile by Alexander Calder, "Big Crinkly". '

Monday, May 4, 2009

George Rickey

If I sat down to make a short-list of Kinetic Sculptors, the second name on that list would be George Rickey.

Like Alexander Calder, Rickey had some training in engineering, and the large-scale outdoor sculptures that made him famous clearly reflect an engineered geometrical approach in their design - such as the swinging blades and rotating cubes that moved effortlessly and unexpectedly on the gimbals he created.

Rickey brought a minimalist approach to kinetic sculpture. His work was more subtle and serious looking than Calder's. While Calder's outdoor mobiles seemed to be adaptations of indoor designs that were scaled up and strengthened for outdoor display, Rickey's work was conceived at the outset to be harmonious with the wind and elements that would move, illuminate, and weather them.

George Rickey - cubes
George Rickey - blades

This is not to say that Rickey was merely an outdoor sculptor. In fact, I'm a big fan of his earlier works such as his “carousel” series which were exquisitely delicate, colorful, and playful.

George Rickey - carousel
George Rickey
George Rickey

I encourage you to find a copy of "George Rickey - The Early Works", where you can see more of these amazing pieces and trace Rickey's development through the many photos that show his growth as an artist, moving from his earliest Calder-like mobiles on up to his later designs.

Also recommended is a visit to Indianapolis this summer to see a special exhibit of Rickey's works from his estate in East Chatham, New York. You can find out more about this exhibit and read an interview with Phillip Rickey, George's son, also a fine sculptor here:

Thursday, April 30, 2009

McCormick Center

Hanging sculpure at McCormick Place in Chicago

McCormick Place is a huge facility, and if you happen to visit it for a convention or trade show I'd encourage you to do some exploring. There are many wonderful sculptures hidden away from the exhibit halls in areas where visitors do not typically wander, such as this piece, tucked away on level 4 or 5 of the South Building. I searched for a placard, but could not find any information about this piece or the artist that created it.

McCormick Place also has works by Tim Prentice, Dale Chihuly, and James Surls

Monday, April 27, 2009

Captcha is created by space aliens

These things are really starting to annoy me!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Evolution and De-evolution of a mobile

Mobiles are one of the most dynamic and interesting forms of sculpture because they are always in motion. Because of this, the arrangement of pieces is ever-changing and the appearance of any particular mobile can change dramatically from moment to moment.

Sometimes, even the design of a particular piece can seem to have a life of its own, evolving over a period of days or even years, especially when the mobile has been commissioned by a client. Here's a good example.

Several years ago a client contacted me. He wanted a very large hanging mobile for his beautiful modern home that was under construction in eastern Pennsylvania. He was a big Alexander Calder fan, and wanted a replica of the mobile that hangings in the National Gallery in Washington. He wanted it to be about 12 feet wide.

A BIG one!

I explained that I didn't make copies of Calder's work, but that I was interested in the project and felt that I could come up with a design that he would like. I quoted some prices and he told me that he would contact me at the proper time when the room was nearing completion.

I didn't hear back from him for nearly a year, and had somewhat dismissed the project as unlikely to move forward, but one day he called me and said that he was ready to start reviewing designs.

I presented this idea among several, which was similar to the Calder mobile that he liked in that it has two sections; one with vertical pieces and one with horizontal pieces. There is a view on the sketch that shows the horizontal pieces as seen from above. As you can see, the elements are pretty similar to Calder's typical triangle and boomerang shapes. I really liked this design and was hoping he would pick it.

satori hanging mobile sketch_1

But he chose this design instead. He didn't want any horizontal pieces.

Satori hanging mobile sketch 2

His next request was to make the elements "more like Calder shapes", so I sent back this idea.

Satori hanging mobile sketch 3
He really liked that design, (I didn't care for it so much).
The next step was to figure out a color arrangement. He liked this one:
hanging mobile colors

The size was critical. He sent architectural drawings to me and wanted the mobile to fill the room as much as possible. I felt that 11 feet wide would be a good target to aim for. If the mobile turned out to be larger than 12 feet, it would run into a wall. On a new design, it can be tricky to estimate sizes. A lot of it depends on where the hanging points are located, and how all the spaces and shapes relate to each other.

He sent a down payment, and I started working on the mobile.

I was really pleased when I finished and measured the mobile. I found that it had an 11 ft swing diameter - exactly like I wanted. Here's a photo that I sent comparing the unpainted mobile to the sketch. unpainted hanging mobile

The next step was to paint the mobile, pack it up, and (in this case), drive about 8 hours to deliver the mobile to his home. I really enjoyed seeing his home, it was built on top of a mountain and had many unique design features - he also had a lot of Calder lithographs.

Here's a photo that I took after I installed the mobile.

hanging mobile
It looked wonderful. Everyone was happy.
Project closed? Not quite.

A few months ago, I was flipping thru my sketch books and noticed the sketch of first design - the one that I had hoped that he would pick. I still wanted to make that mobile!

Since I had some free time, I decided I would do it. It would be much smaller of course - something that you could hang up in a room with standard ceilings. And I wanted to change the colors to the palette that I've been using lately - verdigris, khaki, red, black, and maybe a blue piece.

Here's how it came out - I really liked it!
I decided to name it "Satori"

Satori hanging mobile by unigami
I posted it up in the gallery on The Mobile Factory and quickly found a buyer.

Project closed? Not yet!!!

About a month later, a client emailed me - she really liked "Satori" but wondered if I could make it in primary colors, like a Calder mobile. Red, Black, Yellow, Blue.

Sure, I can do that!

So here is the most recent version, which I suspect is a miniature of what the large 11 foot mobile would have looked like if he had chosed my first design.

satori hanging mobile with alternate colors
So...after all of that, I guess this one has come full circle.
Unless there is yet more to come!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Philadelphia loses its Calders.

Calder 'Jerusalem Stabile' formerly at the "Calder Garden"
- courtesy hanneorla's flickrstream

Sure…his home and studio were in Roxbury Connecticut, Chicago has “The Flamingo” and the mechanical contraption in the Sears Tower (or whatever it is called now), Grand Rapids loves its “La Grande Vitesse” so much that they’ve adopted it as the official icon of the city, Washington D.C. has the beautiful and remarkable mobile in the National Gallery, New York has a fabulous collection of who knows how many mobiles and stabiles at the Whitney, but Philadelphia, perhaps more than any other city, has been most often associated with Alexander Calder and one of the best places to view his art.

“I was born in Lawnton” Calder said in his autobiography, “but it has been swallowed up by Philadelphia”. One of his first memories was living in a small Philadelphia apartment next to a railroad yard and being fascinated by the field of tracks, passenger trains, and freight cars. Born into a family of working artists, Calder also recalled posing in his father’s Philadelphia studio located on the second floor of an old livery stable for a statue that was to become known as “The Man Cub”.

Calder had no interest in becoming an artist. He was more fascinated by machines and loved tinkering and inventing things in the little workshops that he cobbled up in the corner of his father’s studio. I think he would have been quite surprised back then if someone were to tell him that one day it would be possible for a visitor to stand in one particular spot on Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Parkway, not too far away from his boyhood home, and observe a time-line of sculptures from three generations of Calder artists; from Calder’s very-own “Ghost” mobile hanging outside the great stair hall at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, to his father Alexander Stirling Calder’s “Swann Memorial Fountain” at Logan Square, to the historical sculptures at City Hall created by his grandfather Alexander Milne Calder.

A few years ago, the Ben Franklin Parkway boasted not one, not two, not three, but ELEVEN Calder sculptures, located in a two-acre plot known as “The Calder Garden”. Opening announcements made in 2001 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art said that there would be a rotating display of 10 to 15 pieces over a 13 year period. Funding for this display was provided by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts and the sculptures were provided on loan by The Calder Foundation.

Philadelphia, obviously proud of it’s Calder legacy, had even bigger plans for the Garden, a huge museum solely devoted to the work of Calder; a collection of mobiles, stabiles, jewelry, paintings, and contraptions unlike anything in the world. Sadly, despite many attempts over many years of failed negotiations to come to terms with requirements from the Calder Foundation (based in New York) and patrons who were asked to donate works on loan to the museum, the plans were scrapped and it is generally agreed that a museum will never be built.

And now, the Calder Garden is gone and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Without any prior announcement or explanation - practically under cover of darkness, sculptures were quickly dismantled, packed up, and hauled away this month. Within a few days the whimsical Calder Garden became nothing more than a grassy plot of land where you could walk your dog or toss an empty water bottle.

One sculpture does remain, relocated to an area nearby. It was the only one owned by the city of Philadelphia and not the Calder Foundation.

Spokespeople for the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Pew Charitable Trust had little to say about the removal, calling the 12 year term a “ballpark figure” and explaining that the funding for the event had simply expired.

I have not seen any comments from the Calder Foundation.

You really have to see a Calder sculpture in person to experience it. Obviously, a static photograph of a mobile can not provide you with the sense of life and playfulness that these sculptures radiate, and a photograph of a monolithic sculpture like the Flamingo in Chicago pales in comparison to the experience you feel when you are able to stand underneath a sculpture this size. I had hoped to visit the Calder Garden some day.

The loss of the museum and now the Calder Garden is not only a loss to the city of Philadelphia, it is also a loss to the legacy of Alexander Calder; a man whom is arguably America’s most prolific, inventive, and greatest sculptor. And it is a huge loss to fans and would-be fans of his work. It is disappointing that the Calder Foundation did not take a proactive role in finding a way to keep the Calder Garden alive and to find a way to bring the Calder Museum to fruition.

Roswell - hanging mobile

Roswell UFO hanging mobile
hanging mobile Roswell UFO
"Roswell" - an original hanging mobile design by Unigami
26 inches tall x 24 inches wide

Usually, a design idea comes first but sometimes a name
will inspire me to create something.

I was watching a program about the Roswell UFO incident
and decided it would be a great idea for a cute little mod
hanging mobile.

The gold sphere with antennas is Sputnik, the first object
sent into orbit by the Russians - ten years after Roswell.

visit for more information about my hanging mobiles and stabiles and also be sure to check out my Esty Shop

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Poppy - hanging mobile

poppy hanging mobile
"Poppy" - original hanging mobile by Unigami

32 inches tall x 31 inches wide
Sheet Metal and stainless steel

visit for more information about my hanging mobiles and stabiles.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Misaki - hanging mobile

Misaki hanging mobile
Misaki - hanging mobile by Unigami

28 inches tall x 24 inches wide
Polypropylene and stainless steel

visit for more information about my hanging mobiles and stabiles.