Of all the brilliant artists we feature on ‘the improvised life’, Alexander Calder holds a special place in our hearts. In addition to his monumental artworks and legendary mobiles, he was a prolific creator of household objects for everyday use. If he or his wife Louisa or a friend needed something utilitarian, he would devise a solution on the spot, with whatever was at hand.
The trove of his improvisations is vast and inspiring; each invites rethinking of common objects we often take for granted: tin cans, pie tins, wire, bits of scrap wood. His creations were not only useful, but visually stunning.
Here is the artist telling how he created a barbeque grill out of an iron garden chair after his son-in-law Jean Davidson invited a horde of people over for a party:
“[Jean Davidson] had invited at least forty people to eat three-inch-steaks and a dozen chickens in their skins. He had the meat and the fire, but no implements with which to cook them. So I hunted around the unloved house on the other island and found an old garden chair made completely of iron. I wove some wire across where the back had been, and we cooked it up on the fire and it served very well as a grill. Steak a la chaise came to be the specialite maison”
—Calder, An Autobiography with Pictures, Pantheon Books, 1966