11 November 2009

Paging Mr. Calder, Mr. Alexander Calder

photo by Matt Bisanz

I.M. Pei's East Wing of the National Gallery of Art opened in 1978 after a four year construction. I happened upon it for the first time in 1979, when I was in eighth grade. Actually, it was a planned excursion. I was in DC on a school trip and I ducked away from the group to explore the museums along the Mall at my own pace. My how times have changed. Can you imagine an eighth grader pulling a stunt like that now?

Anyhow, I'd read an article in National Geographic about the new building and I was beyond intrigued by the wonders it promised. I'd never been in an art museum before (I grew up in the sticks) and I had no idea what to expect other than that the East Wing was a really cool building. I walked into the building and across a bridge that spanned the atrium. Floating over my head was the most impressive thing I'd ever seen.

I had no idea then, but I know now that what I was looking at was Alexander Calder's Untitled from 1976. Calder's mobile in the National Gallery lit a fire inside of me that's never gone out. Untitled is 76 feet long and weighs 920 pounds. It's the visual anchor of the building's huge atrium and its perpetual motion is fueled by the convection currents in the atrium and the eddies caused by the people who walk below it. It's a machine that harnesses the very energy of the space where it's suspended. Untitled spins and rotates with an effortless grace that makes it appear utterly weightless. It's a flock of birds, it's a school of fish, it's the flighty and confused adventures of a 14-year-old boy named Paul.

Alexander Calder invented the mobile and the whole idea of what's now called kinetic sculpture. In the 1930s he was working with anchored kinetic pieces he called stabiles and when he started suspending them, the mobile was born. Calder's Untitled in the East Wing was his crowning achievement and his final public work.

I've never forgotten my early moment of clarity and inspiration on the bridge and to this day I cannot see a kinetic sculpture and not be captivated.

So it was a great and welcome surprise to be followed by someone named @lkgeiser yesterday. In following her links back to her website, I learned that @lkgeiser is one half of the husband and wife team behind San Francisco-based Wallter.

Linda and Max are artists and Wallter grew out of their inability to find bedding they liked. They filled an unmet need in their graphic bedpreads, pillows, throw blankets and textiles. Look over their textile selections here. It's beautiful stuff. Wallter also designs and manufactures 3-D, paintable wall decor; coat racks and (be still my heart) mobiles. Thank you for the follow Linda, I had no idea you guys existed but I'm sure glad I know about you now. According to their website, Wallter seeks out voids in the home accessory market. As I sit here staring at the void in the corner of my living room I'm even more happy I found these folks.

There are five steel mobiles in Wallter's collection and each of those five is available in an impressive array of colors. Of the five the one that really calls to me is their Palm mobile.

The adjustablility that Wallter's built into these beauties ensures that no two will end up looking alike once they're in place. It's mass customization to a dizzying degree.

Here's a video that shows how to install a Palm.

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Thanks Wallter, I'm glad you're out there. And gang, go poke around their website. Christmas is coming you know.


  1. I love that place!! I've been to that museum more times than I remember and never tire of it. I saw a Ron Mueck exhibit there once that left me speechless.

  2. I've been back a number of times over the years and it never fails to enthrall me. The National is one of the world's finest art museums and we're fortunate to have it as a national asset.

  3. I can see a Calder (Tripes) right outside my office window. I love it! :)

    I'm about to check out Fold Bedding, too. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. I'm envious Jeannine, I have to travel to Miami to see one. :(

    Fold Bedding is wild, it's very distinctive and well-made.

  5. how cool is the east wing still? love that grand scale international style architecture- there needs to be a revival...

    thanks for sharing your a bit of your childhood- i love hearing stories of 'design' awakenings...

  6. I adore that building Christian. I'm with you too, I love those grand, nearly monolithic International buildings. Sign me up on the request form for a revival. It's funny, when you walk around that building today, it's almost like a study for Pei's work on the Louvre. All the parts are there already in the East Wing.


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