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

29 comments:

  1. Haha, thanks for posting these! Great job using google to explore. Fantastic.

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  2. WOW this is so cool. AC was a great artist and besides his sculpturs and mobiles, he also painted and made fantastic jewelry. Thanks for sharing this, itz great. Also, I've always wanted to know how the heck to use Google Maps and thanks to these instructions, I now know :)

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  3. where did you get the post card. im sure its priceless

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  4. p.s. i believe that the foundation id headed by calder's daughter

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  5. I just saw the Calder exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. There are some really great privately-held pieces in the show. And I've also seen the permanent exhibit at the Whitney in NYC.

    I'm a huge fan but please respect the family/estate property and don't go setting up lemonade stands or baking random things into pies and leaving them on the doorstep.

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  6. This postcard shows a telephone number of "Congress 3-2286" (which translates to 263-2286). Telephone numbers have not been listed with exchanges like this since the very early 1960s.

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    1. Our phone number in Roxbury could be dialed with 5 numbers well into the 1980's. Roxbury was always a few decades behind modern technology :-)

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  7. So, using today's convention and area code for Roxbury, Calder's phone number would have been 860-263-2286. I'm tempted to call and find out who has this number now, I'm sure that they have no idea that they have the former phone number of a famous artist!

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  8. You could be on "History Detectives"! Your story is so much fun--and well written. While waking up this morning, I googled "Calder." I ended up leaving home for work smiling with delight for your great investigative success!

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  9. Thank you! I am smiling with delight from your wonderful compliment!

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  10. Your maps are wonderful, I can visualize the area clearly as drawn. It's a beautiful area, our "Family Farm" was the next property up Painter Hill Road which was primarly operated by my Uncle John.

    My grandfather lived in Hamden, severe allergies kept him from working on the farm. Almost every weekendm my father and his sister would visit the farm, and stroll down to Chalder's barn to visit.

    Mr. Chalder always drew little sketches for them and proudly displayed on my Uncle John's walls. When Uncle John passed away (1972) my Aunt started to clean the house and threw all the pictures away! (about 5 or 6 large shoe boxes) A treaurse missed!

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  11. What an interesting story! Thank you for sharing it. That is so unfortunate that she threw away those drawings...they would be worth a long of money today!

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  12. Dear Unigami,
    I hope someday you're able to complete your pilgrimage in person, although your "virtual" pilgramage was quite impressive!
    As I grew up in an adjacent town, Calder became my favorite artist too. His unpretentious nature & the fact that he was as much of an engineer as artist make him an ever-facinating character to me. I always yearned for some sort of Calder original work of art and my dream came true about 15 years ago when I spotted an original print at a second hand furniture store in NYC. I paid about 1% of what it was worth and it's a cherished item to this day. On what would have been Clader's 100th birthday, the Town of Roxbury commissioned postage stamps in his honor & held a ceremony at the library. It was well attended by the town as well as Pedro Guerrero, Calder's preferred photographer. Mr. Guerro was also Frank Llyoyd Wright's preferred photog; he himself is a very accomplished genius. It was a magical afternoon, with several townspeople sharing their rememberanced of their beloved "Sandy". One of whom was a very old farmer who recounted stories about Sandy Calder giving him inumerable wire sculptures, all of which were eventully, tragically thrown out by Mrs. Farmer. After the old farmer completed his monologue, the town librairan who was acting as the MC cleverly tongue-and-cheek announced a dig at the town dump with metal detectors! Speaking of Frank Lloyd Wright, there is another "Roxbury Connection" involving Mr. Wright. After many of my pilgramges to Taliesen West, Wright's winter home & school in Arizona, I was facinated when a docent pointed out a never before known by me fact. Wright designed, although it was never built, a home for Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe which was to be built on their property in Roxbury. The building plans were sold many years later to a private country club in Hawaii for their new clubhouse.
    Many thanks for sharing your great story!
    Warm Regards,
    Sean Bagley
    seanbagleyus@yahoo.com

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  13. Dear Ugami,
    I stumbled upon your website while trying to get some information on visiting the Calder home. Your maps, pictures and guided tour were absolutely wonderful; thank you so much.

    Kindest regards,
    Diane

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  14. Thanks for the nice response! Please keep in mind that this is a private residence, so please be respectful and keep your distance.

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  15. Oh, so nice that you found it.

    I live close by and have driven by this house many times. If was always very inspiring to me. I knew a farmer a few houses down from Calders house and was invited into the farmer's kitchen one day and hanging above an old oak round table in the kitchen was a beautiful Calder mobile. I gasped and said... Look what you have! The farmer smiled and said "Yep, Sandy gave that to me. He used to sit at this table and play poker with me."

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  16. How wonderful to find your article !
    He was dear friends with my parents, I called him 'Uncle Sandy' and just drove by his house tonight on the way home!
    I used to lie on the floor with him as a little girl and draw animals together...I loved him very much.

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  17. I am an art teacher in Old Saybrook, CT and found your article on line today. One of my 8th grade students will "become" Sandy Calder and give a talk about his life in a 5th grade classroom in the spring. I am just researching his mobiles in order to gather ideas for the hands-on lesson the 5th graders will create as part of the program. What a find!! This will be so much fun and if you ever get back to the relatives in O.S., visit the middle school. Anita

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  18. Believe it or not, I went to a keg party at the Calder Estate when I was a teenager in about 1993. Although I was more interested in drinking beer and chasing girls at the time, I did know prior to the party the greatness of Calder, and was in awe of the mobiles and his then-untouched studio. I peered through those windows pictured above. It was an experience I'll never forget.

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  19. 2032632286. Grew up just down the street. I was fortunate to have been hired by Miller to cut his lawn a few times in the early 90s, when in high school. He would walk around his property (and town) sporting a baseball cap imprinted with "Salesman." Unfortunately, Calder passed away before I would have a chance to now HIS lawn.

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  20. I found your post while researching an article I've just written about house museums - Calder's house will be open to the public next year, courtesy of the artist's foundation, Foundation Beyeler, various artists and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. I hope you can make it there! http://tinyurl.com/c3bdega

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    1. Thanks so much for this information - very exciting news!

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    2. Great news. I look forward to visiting.

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  21. I drove past the house yesterday totally by accident. There are signs posted on all the entrenches that it is a private property and to respect their privacy. It was an exciting surprise on a beautiful day in the Connecticut countryside taking photographs for my own project

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  22. I drove past the Calder property earlier today. Such a beautiful part of CT and it was a beautiful late spring day to enjoy it! Thanks for the great article. I'd love to get a look inside the studio even if his works are gone...just the energy!

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  23. I loved finding this post...I wish he was still with us. I think his spirit flies through the sky above painter hill...

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  24. Thank you so much for posting this! My mom adores Calder and I can't wait to share this with her. My daughter's got to study Calder in 3rd grade, so happy about that. I really hope you get to see his home in person. - dp

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  25. Are you sure it's not the converted dairy barn on Painter ridge road and Pickett road?

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    1. Corrections that's Painter ridge road and 2 Rod Hwy.

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