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Alexander Stirling Calder


Tree of Life
circa 1930

Earthenware (Terra Cotta)
24 x 13 x 11 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

Stylistically, Tree of Life bridges the gap between A. Stirling Calder’s earlier figurative work and his leanings to abstract contemporary European sculptors. The subject refers to the Old Testament story of Eve being tempted by the serpent. Instead of the absolute clarity that marked his early realistic figures, this composition represents the new spirit of the times. Calder drew his inspiration from academic-neoclassical sculptors in New York City during the early decades of the 20th century. He was named the Director of Sculpture for San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition which brought together many of American’s most significant artists.

A. Stirling Calder was born into Philadelphia's most famous family of sculptors.
He was the son of the Scottish born sculptor Alexander Milne Calder and father of sculptor Alexander Calder who invented mobile sculptures. A. Stirling Calder, the oldest of six boys, began his artistic training at sixteen at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied with Thomas Eakins. In 1890 he went to Paris to study. After two years he returned to Philadelphia and began teaching modeling at the Pennsylvania Academy. After Paris and Philadelphia, he moved his family to Arizona, California (Pasadena and San Francisco), Philadelphia (again) and three places in New York. At the age of 24 he won his first major commission and he was quickly established for decorative, monumental architectural commissioned sculpture and public fountains, such as: the Depew Fountain (1915) in Indianapolis, Ind., The Swann Memorial Fountain in Philadelphia, Pa. (1924), Leif Ericson (1932) in Reykjavik, Iceland, and full-length George Washington (1918) flanked by allegorical figures of Wisdom and Justice on the arch at Washington Square, New York City.

Billie Sessions, PhD

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