Blog / Calder memories


By Wendy

Our Alexander Calder exhibition finally opens tomorrow, and visitors are already sharing their own Calder memories and experiences. Recently we heard from Jack Gartner, who wrote down his own Calder story from the 1950s. Back then, Jack was the building manager of Idlewild Airport, now known as JFK Airport in New York.

Jack writes:

When the International Arrival Building was originally constructed at JFK (then Idlewild Airport) in the ’50s, Calder was commissioned to install a very large mobile in the center of the lobby. It was about 10-12 large pieces, if  I remember, of varying colors, hung from a ceiling above the second floor, a good 50-60 feet above the floor, so you can imagine the pieces were pretty large. A spectacular piece!

Every year, the mobile was taken down by our Maintenence Department and replaced with holiday decorations for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

One year sometime in the late ’70s I’d say, when I was manager, Maintenance replaced the Calder after the holidays. It didn’t hang correctly … something was out of wack. Investigation was made, heads scratched, until voila! It turns out that Maintenence had decided to repaint the installation, and used different paint than had been used previously, and the slight difference in the weight of that paint along with the amazing sensitivity of the unit made it hang incorrectly.

They found the correct paint, redid the job and it was fixed.

I believe that when the building was reconstructed, all the artwork was sold, including the Calder, and I don’t know where it might have ended up.

I hope you will find this interesting as a comment on how Calder’s construction had to be so perfectly balanced to achieve the effect he wanted.

Jack Gartner has lived in Durham since 1999, after retiring from a 36-year career in aviation that included management positions at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports.  His son graduated from Duke and he teaches an aviation course at OLLI (Osher Life Long Learning Institute) at Duke. He is a past president of the OLLI Board of Advisors.

IMAGE: Idlewild Airport, circa 1950s. Courtesy of

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