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Connecting Collections: Photographs of Alexander Stirling Calder's Work

By Alice Creed

Philadelphia is home to three generations of the Calder family’s artwork. However, this collection focuses on Alexander Stirling Calder’s work outside of Philadelphia. In 1915, Calder was commissioned to be the Chief of Sculpture for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. This collection contains 70 photographs of Calder’s works from the exhibition. From detailed pictures of his sculptures to views of the exposition and his workshop, the series of photographs provide a look at Calder’s work from every angle.

The Panama Pacific International Exposition was a World’s Fair held in San Francisco to celebrate the construction of the Panama Canal and the US and California’s technological advancements. Less than a decade after the Great Fire, San Francisco wanted to use the Exposition to rebuild its image as a city rising from the ashes. The Exposition displayed all kinds of innovations throughout 636 acres, with numerous exhibitions and monumental buildings like the Palace of Fine Arts.

Calder’s work featured prominently in the Panama Pacific International Exhibition. The Star Maiden (one of which is pictured above) was a key component to the architecture of the Exposition and was featured in imagery promoting the event. The Star Maiden, used in the exhibition as a column, is a classic technique crafted in a new manner. Photos from the workshop show techniques that went into monumental works such as the Star Maiden. Smaller scale models of the sculpture are shown in the background of the image, revealing a part of the artistic process. In the foreground, one of Calder’s assistants puts the finishing touches on a Star Maiden sculpture. Calder wanted his sculptures to be architectural reimaginings that signified the innovation of a new age.

Another key piece in the exposition was Calder’s Fountain of Energy. Many of the photographs in the collection portray the creation of every part of the massive fountain. In The Sculpture and Mural Decorations of the Exposition: A Pictorial Survey of the Art of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition by Stella Perry, the Fountain of Energy is described as a triumphant monument to the technological achievement of the Panama Canal. The main figure, Energy, rides his horse into the future of innovation and advancement. Photographs in the collection illustrate the effort and labor that went into creating these massive sculptures. These photos recontextualize the Fountain of Energy and show the invisible work that exists behind monumental innovation and achievement.

Visit HSP to view all 70 incredible photographs of Calder’s work at the Panama Pacific International Exposition. These photographs give a unique look at the artistic process and physical labor that created the monumental sculptures of Alexander Stirling Calder.

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