Calder Mobile

calder-0132The King just finished reading Blue Balliett’s most recent book, The Calder Game, and loved it.  She has written 2 other books, Chasing Vermeer, which came first, then The Wright 3.  These books are great for kids who love art, mysteries, solving puzzles and good writing.  I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

We decided to make a mobile based on the code in the book.  (All three books have secret codes.  In the first book, they are pentomino shapes, in the third, they are shapes from Alexander Calder’s sculptures.)
The Calder Code, page 348, The Calder Game
The Calder Code, page 348, The Calder Game
Our materials
Our materials
Foam sheets for the shapes (You could use paper but we wanted something easy to cut yet sturdy.  Our largest piece is about 8 by 5 inches.)
Wire for the horizontal supports (We used 20 gauge, but a little heavier would be nice.  Clothes hangers might work.  Our longest piece is about 20 inches.)
String to tie the pieces to the wire
Scissors, needle nose pliers and wire cutters if you have them (Scissors can cut some wire and you can bend it without the needle nose, but your loops to tie the strings onto may be a little larger.)
Our pieces
Our pieces
Decide the pieces, enlarge, transfer to foam sheets and cut.  Make a hole with a hole puncher.
Cut and bend the wire.  (We drew out a preliminary plan first.)
Tie a string to the main wire and loosely tie it to something you can reach to continue to work on it.  (We used the dining room light.)
Continue to tie the other wire pieces onto the main support, varying their length.
Tie the foam pieces to the wires, again varying the length of string.  Wait to double knot the strings until you are satisfied with the sculpture.
Our finished mobile
Our finished mobile
This was a really fun and fairly easy project.  The Prof is now lobbying for one for his office.  Extra points to everyone who figures out what The King’s code is saying.
If you want to include more art education, think about discussing simple design concepts with your kids as you plan the sculpture.  A few suggestions: use odd numbers, keep things off balance, remember that warm colors (red, orange. yellow) advance and cool colors recede, consider using the rule of thirds (divide the space, or pieces into groups-2/3 one color, about 2/3 of the rest a second color and the remaining section a third color).  If you want to see some of these principles in action or just explore Calder’s art, look at this great site with a huge catalog of his work.
If you want to include science, look at the levers section of David Macaulay’s How Things Work: Levers, either the video or the book.  Even with wire and foam, you have to think about balancing weights and lengths.  I didn’t anticipate the balance issue with these lightweight materials.  It really makes me appreciate Calder so much more to think about how much science and engineering were required to create such seemingly simple sculptures.
This project combines so many things: literature, science, math, art history, free exploration of colors, balance and arrangement while also involving direct instruction and/or discussion of art principles and a lovely final project.  The shadows it creates on the wall as it slowly turns add another, ever changing, always renewing dimension.



17 thoughts on “Calder Mobile

  1. Wow! At first glance I think of astronomy, you’re not suprised at that.
    The balance is great. I have not solved the code.

  2. I don’t know if it would be the King’s speed, but this post & the one above about cartooning make me think of a YA novel I just read recently and really enjoyed, called The Real Meaning of Smekday. Kind of a kid-meets-alien, alien-and-kid-save-Earth-from-worse-aliens deal. Very well written, and some surprising little bits of cartoon stuck into it (the friend alien draws…). I’ve been trying to think of people to recommend it to… 🙂

  3. Thank you Thank you!! I am teaching an American Artist class in a few weeks and we are doing Calder!! I had an idea of how to make a mobile but love your directions.

  4. I’m such a big Calder fan, and this looks like a fantastic project to do with my son. I’ll definitely check out the books, too.

    The code is cute, very self-referential. 😉

  5. I read the book too and realy enjoyed it. Felt inspired to make Calder mobiles with my class (and pentomino mazes!), so was browsing the net for some examples. Great instructions, hope you don’t mind me using them.

  6. I’m a teacher. I am reading The Calder Game with my 6th graders.
    I would love to know the code if anyone has cracked it. We are confounded. Even our school librarian is pulling her hair out!
    please email:
    Thank you!

  7. I love this! I have a special soft spot in my heart for Calder mobiles and when I stumbled on this I was really intrigued by the descriptions you gave for the books! Might check them out sometime. 🙂 Your mobile turned out beautifully btw! The code is very fitting.

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