THE ARTIST’S STUDIO
My passion for Sandy Calder is like an exhausted runner racing behind the easy victor. Hopeless heat. I have a dream that Marcel Breuer has invited me to one of his legendary goulash parties in Paris. It is sometime during the Second World War and it is there that I meet the sculptor, Alexander “Sandy” Calder. He has brought with him a surprise gift for the architect. Breuer has been frustrated by not being able to get the sour cream out of its bottle and into the goulash fast enough. Calder’s ingenious gift is a metal object, which forces the cream upward along a corkscrew. He is clever and witty and I am in love with him immediately. While his metal sculpture, wire caricatures, jewelry, wood toys and mobiles will become his most successful artworks, it is the circus, which made him so endearing. Fabricated from wire, bits of rags and junk, found objects—painted and sewn, he carried the circus around in trunks and then set it up to a select and appreciative audience in the living rooms of friends in Paris and New York. In my dream I learn that Calder will be giving a performance in Washington to aid Free France. It is a chance to see him again.
In my dream, there is a low Victorian oak cabinet in the bathroom of the house where I rent a room. It has a single drawer and two cupboard doors below. I remove the crystal drawer knobs fairly easily by loosening the brass screws with the rounded end of a metal nail file that I find inside the drawer. The drawer also contains several laundered linen hand towels embroidered with flowers, some bars of bayberry soap, an antique wooden mouse trap—wired but not set—to catch as many as 4 mice or perhaps 4 chances to get one, a chrism filled with safety and hair pins, and a round silver perfume flask engraved with the initials MCD which opens by pulling off the northern hemisphere to reveal a glass stoppered bottle inside. The fragrance: tea rose. I wrap the two knobs in a handkerchief, unwrap them, put two drops of the tea rose scent on the cloth, rewrap them and slip them into the pocket of my coat. I squint at the commode and think of Sandy. There are pipe cleaners in the parlor. I twist several together and fashion two new drawer pulls. Perhaps my remodeling will not be noticed so quickly.
We are sitting on the floor. In front of us a remnant of green carpet, a ring laid out and poles erected to support the trapeze for the aerial act. A spotlight illuminates the circus ring as Calder’s hands begin to perform. Mésdames et Méssieurs, he announces, je vous présente… Calder’s performance of his circus is brilliant. He plays the ringmaster; he manipulates the puppets fashioned of wads and wire and he bellows and growls the voices of each animal he has constructed of bits of wood, gobs, and yarn. Clapping, cheers and bravos. I make my way to where he stands; remind him of our meeting in Paris. I reach into my pocket. “I have something for you.” The great hands that engineered this big top unwrap the cloth and hold a glass knob in each palm. His enormous face ignites, his eyes blaze with such brilliance, “My dear,” his voice rises, “you’ve brought me the belly dancer’s breasts.”
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My first husband lived comfortably with my grand passion, accompanying me to Calder exhibitions at the Cooper Hewitt and the Whitney. Also an artist, he made me the beginning of a circus: a husband and wife trapeze act created from his old socks, my panty hose, wrapped and twisted in silvery wire. They have a pet dog named Breuer. Though I dutifully save my worn socks, no more circus figures come and I am ripe for the young architect who, like Calder, plays lacrosse and woos me with a wire drawing of a dog, which is more Thurber, that Calder. I am delighted He makes a continuous chain of wire hearts which accordion-like stretch across my wall. After we are married, our son asleep in his car seat, we crisscross the countryside of Roxbury, Connecticut where Calder built his studio in 1938 and coasting down Painter Hill Road one sunny Sunday afternoon we see the massive Calder stabiles lounging on the rolling lawns. There, in the distance is the studio.