The Wonderment of the Mobile and Alexander Calder
by Debra Karplus
by Debra Karplus
You may have noticed an alert and playful infant entertained, amused, and intrigued by a colorful mobile mounted within reach above the baby crib. The child might have been cooing contentedly while examining, batting at, and manipulating the components of the mobile overhead as they twirled lazily. Much more than just a baby plaything, the mobile is actually an art form, known as kinetic art, which originated in France around 1913.
This type of specialized three-dimensional moving sculpture gained popularity in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. The main characteristic of mobiles is their suspended moveable components which seem to float, and must be very carefully balanced to facilitate proper movement. Mobiles can be made from a wide variety of materials such as wood, metal, or plastic. Air currents from the wind or other source, or motor power such as a fan or blower can be utilized to set their parts in motion; kinetic art is different from other types of sculptures because of this movement.
American sculptor of the 1930s, Alexander Calder was masterful with his three dimensional artistic masterpieces. Though he produced jewelry, tapestries, painting, lithographs, miniature wire circus figures, non-moving sculptures referred to as stabiles, and art using various materials, the creations that perhaps brought Calder the most fame were his mobiles. The National Gallery of Art in Maryland displays some of his work; but other museum, such as the American Visionary Art Museum in Boston, also have extensive collections of kinetic art.
With supplies you may already have, you can design and assemble your own simple inexpensive mobile by using a metal coat hanger or firm wire to support the mobile, paper for the moving components, and string or yarn to hang these parts. There are books, websites, and videos that provide specific ideas and instructions for making your own mobile at home. Mobiles have become more innovative since the early kinetic masterpieces of Alexander Calder and his contemporaries.