Alexander Calder is one of the better known 20th century artists and he is best known for his large, abstract mobiles found in the modern art wings of many museums throughout the United States. What you may see less often, however, are the bold accoutrements and pieces of jewelry that he created. Calder started making jewelry when he was a young child and never stopped. Today, these pieces are highly valued and just this past November a brass wire hair pen sold for over $16,000 dollars. According the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Calder made nearly two thousand pieces of jewelry and “many of these pieces were made specifically for family members or friends and given away on special occasions.”
This hair pen brought to mind a hair barrette that I saw a couple of years ago when doing an appraisal event at Tuckahoe Antiques. The owner told us the family story: her mother had gone a dinner party in New York City where Alexander Calder was also in attendance. During the party he created this hair barrette for her as a party trick - could you imagine? The fact that this hair barrette (see first photo below) was handcrafted out of metal, Calder’s preferred medium, and that it appears to be abstract in form does align with his aesthetic. It also resembles a more finely crafted hair barrette found in the 2017 Contemporary Curated auction - it sold for $27,500!