Alexander Calder was born in 1898, in Lawton, Pennsylvania. In 1919, he received an engineering degree from Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken. As a freelance artist for the National Police Gazette in 1925, he spent two weeks sketching at the circus. He also made his first sculpture in 1925.
Calder's first exhibition of paintings took place in 1926 at the Artist's Gallery, New York. Later that year, he went to Paris and attended the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. In Paris, he met Stanley William Hayter, exhibited at the 1926 Salon des Independants, and in 1927 began giving performances of his miniature circus. The first show of his wire animals and caricature portraits was held at the Weyhe Gallery, New York, in 1928.
In 1929, the Galerie Billiet gave him his first solo show in Paris. Calder began to experiment with abstract sculpture at this time and in 1931 and 1932 introduced moving parts into his work. These moving sculptures were called "mobiles" the stationary constructions were to be named "stabiles." He exhibited with the Abstraction-Creation group in Paris in 1933. In 1943, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, gave him a solo exhibition.
During the 1950s, Calder traveled widely and executed Towers (wall mobiles) and Gongs (sound mobiles). He won the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 1952 Venice Biennale. Late in the decade, the artist worked extensively with gouache; from this period, he executed numerous major public commissions. In 1964, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, presented a Calder retrospective. He began the Totems in 1966 and the Animobiles in 1971; both are variations on the standing mobile. A Calder exhibition was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1976. Calder died in 1976, in New York.