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From Giant Bronze to Jewelry: The Calders in Philadelphia

One family name spans three generations of Philadelphia’s artistic heritage; each with an artist who has left his own mark on the city. WRTI’s Susan Lewis looks at the impact of three Calders – all, incidentally, named Alexander.

Alexander Milne Calder crafted over 200 figures for City Hall, which is topped by his 23-ton, 37-foot tall statue of William Penn. During a cleaning in 2007, conservator David Cann took us to the very top of Penn’s hat:

CANN: And we can pop the top off so you can see how he’s built in sections...there are 47 sections of casting that are flange bolted together on the inside, so they could put him up here … they couldn’t put it up here in one piece...

From what was for years the tallest point in the city, one can look down at Logan Square’s Swann Fountain, whose figures were sculpted by Calder’s son, Alexander Stirling Calder. Looking up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the home of the large mobile Ghost, created by his grandson, Alexander "Sandy" Calder.  Sandy Calder also created what are, in effect, tiny sculptures...jewelry:

FOSTER: He grew up in this legacy of sculpture...he couldn’t help it, he was making stuff out of everyday objects and scraps. All of them, in a way, are very interested in public art, and Calder grew into that, coming out of his background as an engineer and a kind of  playful sense of art as part of daily life.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.