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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 toward abstract contemporary European sculpture. The title refers to the Old Testament story of Eve being tempted by the serpent. Instead of the clarity that marked Calder’s early realistic figures, this composition represents the new, more expressionistic spirit of the times. 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 Alexander Milne Calder and the father of Alexander Calder, the inventor of mobile sculptures. A. Stirling Calder, the oldest of six boys, began his artistic training at age sixteen at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied with Thomas Eakins. In 1890 he went to Paris; after two years, he returned to Philadelphia and began teaching modeling at the academy. Next, he moved his family to Arizona, California (Pasadena and San Francisco), Philadelphia (again), and three places in New York. At the age of twenty-four he won his first major commission and was quickly established in the realms of monumental commissioned sculpture and public fountains, such as the Depew Fountain (1915) in Indianapolis, the Swann Memorial Fountain (1924) in Philadelphia, a statue of Leif Ericson (1932) in Reykjavik, Iceland, and George Washington (1918) flanked by allegorical figures of Wisdom and Justice on the Washington Square arch in New York City.

Billie Sessions, PhD

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