Calder’s inventiveness partly sprang from the alternative vantage point he developed growing up within a family of artists: his mother‚ Nanette Lederer‚ was a painter; his father‚ A. Stirling Calder‚ and grandfather‚ Alexander Milne Calder‚ were well-established sculptors. In 1915‚ Calder chose science‚ not art‚ for his education. He graduated in mechanical engineering in 1919 and held various jobs before deciding to become an artist in 1923 and enrolling in the Art Students League in New York. He initially distinguished himself by way of single-line drawing and rendering speed‚ techniques that captured the movement of animals‚ the spectacle of the circus and the pace of modern life.
In 1926‚ Calder sailed for Paris and embarked on what would become a major enterprise‚ the creation and performance of his miniature circus‚ the Cirque Calder. His circus set the stage for his first radical invention‚ wire sculpture. Pliers in hand‚ he took the single-line drawing off the page and gave it shape to both inhabit and incorporate three-dimensional space with nothing but wire‚ thus challenging traditional notions of sculptural weight‚ solidity and surface.