Before making his name with mobile sculpture, Alexander Calder was captivated by the circus. On a visit to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York City at age 27, Calder traveled about the big top with a sketchpad, drawing tightrope walkers, horseback riders, and acrobats. Using a free pass, he returned to the circus every day for two weeks, and then set out to make a toy circus of his own.
He assembled it from wire, cloth, leather, corks, pipe cleaners, string, and wood. He worked on it for six years, until he had 55 performers, and then put on circus parties for friends, playing music and introducing a ringmaster who would direct each of the acts. When it became too fragile to handle, he gave the circus to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, where it remains today.
“Sandy is evidently always happy, or perhaps up to some joke, for his face is always wrapped up in that same mischievous, juvenile grin,” his school yearbook description had read. “This is certainly the index to the man’s character in this case, for he is one of the best natured fellows there is.”