Artist Name

birth1/11/1870 in Philadelphia, PAPicture of Alexander Stirling Calder
parentsAlexander Milne Calder and ?
educationPennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Académie Julian
École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts
Teacher, Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art
Teacher and member, National Academy of Design
awardsGold Medal, Philadelphia Art Club, 1893
Honorable mention, Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, 1901
Silver Medal, St. Louis Exposition, 1904
Walter Lippincott prize, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1905
Grand prize, Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, 1909
Designer's medal, San Francisco, 1915
Silver Medal, Sesquicentennial Exposition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1926

Alexander Stirling Calder was born in Philadelphia in 1870, the only son of famed sculptor Alexander Milne Calder. Stirling Calder grew up surrounded by his father's work and very early on decided to follow in his footsteps. At 16, he began studying under Thomas Eakins (who had taught his father as well) at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and assisting his father with his sculptural work in the Philadelphia City Hall.

Most of Calder's early life and work was based around Pennsylvania, but when given the chance in 1890 to study under Henri Michel Chapu, a French sculptor, at the Académie Julian, he moved to Paris. While there, he also studied under Alexandre Falguière, a portraitist and sculptor, at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Coincidentally, Calder's future wife, Nanette Lederer, was studying to be a portraitist at the Sorbonne and the Académie Julian at the same time, although they did not meet until they were both safely returned to Pennsylvania, Calder in 1892 and Nanette in 1893.

Upon his return to the United States, Calder's career took off. His first major commission, a colossal statue of Dr. Samuel Gross, won him a national competition and was set on the National Mall. Calder gained a reputation as a Beaux-Arts sculptor with talent at creating enormous monuments and an eye for the human form. While he was certainly kept busy by the commissions he received, one of Calder's passions was teaching. He began teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where Nanette was continuing her own studies. After their meeting, Nanette and Calder were married in 1895. They had two children, Margaret and Alexander, also known as Sandy, who became a sculptor in his own right and is considered the creator of the mobile.

In 1905, Calder contracted tuberculosis and relocated to a ranch in Arizona for two years in order to recover. Thereafter, the family moved back and forth between California, New York City, and Philadelphia, depending on where Calder's work drew him. He was involved with an enormous amount of extremely prestigious work, including three sculpture groups at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco (1915) called The Nations of the East, The Nations of the West and The Fountain of Energy. The Fountain of Energy's centerpiece was the famous Star Maiden sculpture. In 1924, Calder created the sculptures for the Swann Memorial Fountain in Philadelphia. In 1929, he completed the Leif Eriksson memorial, given to Iceland by the United States to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Icelandic Parliament in 1930. The monument is comparable in its iconic value to the Statue of Liberty.

Calder died in 1945 of funnel chest syndrome, a congenital deformity resulting in a concave hollowing of the chest that can interfere with heart and lung function. He lived to see his three grandchildren born and his son's artistic reputation grow to rival his own.

Sourced mainly from Wikipedia.

You can click medals to switch between obverse and reverse sides.

Dance of Life 1938
by A. Stirling Calder
Gold-plated with tan patina around reliefs

This design by Alexander Stirling Calder was chosen as the 17th issue of the prestigious Society of Medalists series. The obverse bears a nude woman holding spirited infant with ball. Around, THE DANCE OF LIFE BEGINS EARLY / AND GOES ON.

The reverse bears nude male being pulled and pushed by two contending nude women. Around, WITH PLEASURE - PAIN / AND THE PROTAGONIST; between legs of figures, signature A - S - C / ©.

In this medal Alexander Stirling Calder portrays life as a dance that starts with playful exuberance and continues with experiences both pleasant and painful. It is not up to the dancer to decide how to dance, or even whether to dance. While every person is the protagonist in their own play, the script is continuously being written by others.

The medal measures 73mm in diameter. Struck by the Medallic Art Company of New York, the reported production quantity of this medal is 891 in bronze and 100 in silver.

73.0mm (2.87in)
Gold-plated with tan patina around reliefs
73.0mm (2.87in)
Deep gold approaching light metallic brown
73.0mm (2.87in)

  • Fountain of Energy

    Fountain of Energy (1915)

    In 1912, Calder was named acting chief (under Karl Bitter) of the sculpture program for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, a World's Fair to open in San Francisco in February 1915. The Fountain of Energy was one of three major sculpture groups Calder designed for the exhibition.

    The image shows the fountain in the foreground with the Tower of Jewels behind it.

    A larger version of this image is available at

  • Star Maiden

    Star Maiden (1915)

    In 1912, Calder was named acting chief (under Karl Bitter) of the sculpture program for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, a World's Fair to open in San Francisco in February 1915. He obtained a studio in New York City and employed the services of model Audrey Munson. She posed for him not only for Star Maiden but also for as many as three quarters of the sculptures at the fair. Star Maiden became the iconic piece of the fair and was used on the gold and silver badges of the fair officials.

    Audrey Munson's career is also worth mentioning. She had been modeling for sculptors and photographers in New York City since 1906, when she was just 15. When Calder selected her to be his model for the Exposition, she used the resulting fame and recognition to jumpstart a silent film career in 1916. She was the first woman to appear fully nude in a silent film. In 1919, she lived at a boarding house run by a Dr. Walter Wilkins. Wilkins fell so in love with her that he murdered his wife in order to pursue her hand in marriage. The scandal ruined Munson's budding career, and she unsuccessfully attempted to take her own life. Next to nothing from her silent films remains to this day, and so pieces like Star Maiden are all that remains of Munson's career.

    Bronzes can be replicated easily if the molds are still available and this statue was popular. At one point at least 94 copies of the statue existed but today there are only two confirmed original copies. One copy was created as late as 1985 with permission from Margaret Calder, Stirling's daughter and Alexander (Sandy) Calder' sister.

    A larger version of this image is available at Wikimedia.

  • Swann Memorial Fountain

    Swann Memorial Fountain (1924)

    The fountain, also called Fountain of the Three Rivers, is located in Philadelphia and memorializes Dr. Wilson Cary Swann, founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society. Calder collaborated with architect Wilson Eyre in the creation of this project.

    Adapting the tradition of "river god" sculpture, Calder created large Native American figures to symbolize the area's major streams, the Delaware, the Schuylkill, and the Wissahickon. The use of swans as design elements was an intentional pun on Swann's name.

    The image to the right depicts the statue representing the Wissahickon.

    An uncropped, larger version of this image, as well as images of the other statues, is available at Wikipedia.

  • Leif Eriksson

    Leif Eriksson Monument (1930)

    Iceland celebrated the 1000th anniversary of its parliament, the Althing, in 1930. Congress commissioned a sculpture as a gift to the people of Iceland from the people of the United States. Calder was awarded the project and chose Leif Eriksson as the subject. He completed the sculpture in 1929 and it was shipped to Iceland where it was mounted on a rising pedestal in front of the Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrim's Church) in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik.

    Leif Erikssson (971-ca. 1015) was the first Norseman to seek out the coast of North America. He was born in Iceland, the son of Eric the Red and moved with his parents to Greenland in 986. The Viking explorer stands high on his pedestal looking westward across the ocean. The Leif Eriksson monument is of similar importance to the Icelandic people as the Statue of Liberty is to the American people.

    An uncropped, larger version of this image is available at

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Books & Articles

American Art Medals, 1909-1995 by David Thomason Alexander
David T. Alexander's book can be purchased at the above link. Highly recommended for anyone interested in SOM. I am deeply indebted to him for all the information I used to document the SOM medals on this site.

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