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Connecticut Colossi: Connecticut Colossi In Gargantualand

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In Gargantualand

With graceful constellations of wire and drifting metal, young Alexander Calder made sculpture airborne. Today, more than30 years since he made the mobile a household word, “Sandy” Calder is working as hard as ever—on the ground. In France, where he has lived off and on since 1926, the Connecticut Yankee has created freestanding metal sculptures more massive than those of any other 20th century artist.

Naturally, he calls them stabiles.

Calder constructs his colossi segment by segment in a studio near his 15th century farmhouse nestled against a limestone cliff, overlooking vineyards and crouched cottages in the chateau country of Touraine. The sculptures bear terse, functional names, such as Dog, Long Nose or Snowplow, tower above the trim countryside. Yet, the neighbors call Calder “le Bricoleur”— the Tinker—because he is always willing to pause from his work and shape a tiny bright metal toy for one of their children.

Shipyard Studio. Among grownups, as well, Calder at 65 is Europe’s favorite U.S. sculptor. In 1927 he delighted Paris with his tiny abstract circus of wire-wound clowns. The son and grandson of more conventional sculptors, Calder has the blacksmith’s instinctual understanding and fondness for metal. His ham fists twist, snip and shear sheet metal into subtle forms that others can only hope to achieve in clay or marble. His latest works of iron are so heavy that his Paris gallery had to reinforce its floor with girders for a one-man Calder show last month.

His biggest stabile yet, Teodelapio, Duke of Spoleto, created for the 1962 Spoleto Festival, weighs 30 tons, looms 59 ft. high, and could only be assembled for the festival with the help of shipyard cranes in Genoa. Calder’s first, more sylphlike stabile was created in 1931 when he was absorbing surrealism from Joan Miro and Jean Arp. From them he learned the art of expressing the forms of living things in the context and materials of the machine age. As the stabiles’ dimensions have grown more mammoth, so have their artistic strength and lean, linear elegance.

Docile Dinosaurs. Though he boasts a 1919 engineering degree from Stevens Institute of Technology Calder talks as laconically about his work as any straw-sucking Yankee handyman. “I do a little of this and a little of that,” he allows. Last year he made mostly stabiles, predominantly black, which stand out as sharply as docile dinosaurs against the pastel countryside. Marveled the art critic of Paris’ prestigious Le Monde: “Is this not America, embodied by an armament so firm and yet so open?” Calder’s neighbors also approve of his activities. The Touraine, they recall proudly, was the spawning ground of Rabelais’ Gargantua, “the giant son of a giant.” With Calder in their midst, it seems almost like old times.

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