From the Collection of John Wheelock Freeman
Alexander Calder (American 1898-1976)
Untitled, Spiral Cufflinks, c. 1955 silver
H. 0.5 in.; W. 0.6 in.; D. 0.5 in. (each)
$4,000 – 8,000
In 1955, John and Sally Freeman celebrated his 27th birthday with a party at the so-called Bowling Alley, built into the hillside behind the Glyndor house at Wave Hill, where they lived through the 1950s (please see below).
Among the guests were Alexander and Louisa Calder, whom John and Sally had known since Yale days. Upon arrival, Calder offered his host a small, crumpled tissue-paper bundle holding a card marked “John / Hap B’day / Sandy” and a pair of coiled silver cufflinks. One of the things Calder first noticed, hanging at the end of the long living space, was the nearly nine-foot tall wire sculpture by Ruth Asawa (lot 18), which according to Mr. Freeman, was the first of her work he had seen.
Gift from Alexander Calder to John W. Freeman for his 27th birthday party June 30, 1955.
THE COLLECTION OF JOHN WHEELOCK FREEMAN
John W. Freeman grew up at Wave Hill, now a public garden and cultural center in Riverdale, West Bronx. His grandfather, George W. Perkins, was a financier, a Morgan partner and advisor to Theodore Roosevelt. In 1909, the Perkins family, accompanied by a small group of friends and relatives, chartered a steamer for an exploratory voyage to the Northwest Coast, following the lead of the Harriman Expedition of 1899. Their photographer, William Carlin, took along the latest “autochrome A” technology. The trip yielded souvenirs (lot 20 among them) from Northwest Coast Native Americans.
During the period 1909–12, Perkins undertook extensive landscaping work at his Riverdale estate, notably adding the Bowling Alley, an underground recreation room in the hillside overlooking the Hudson, which now serves Wave Hill as an environmental study space. In 1950, following his first marriage, John Freeman began a decade of occupancy of this space as a home. One of the family’s early additions was a woven wire sculpture (lot 18) by the newcomer Ruth Asawa.
After 1950, as a graduate of Andover and Yale, Freeman started a freelance writing career by researching the vintage motorcar scene. While creating two books, both entitled Sports Cars (published by Fawcett and Random House), he and his collaborator, the architectural photographer Alexandre Georges, also ventured on an unpublished book project about artists in their studios. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of MoMA, offered help by writing letters of introduction to many artists working abroad, including Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Fernand Léger.
In 1955, Calder was invited to Freeman’s 27th birthday party at the Bowling Alley in Riverdale. On arrival, Calder gave Freeman a present of a pair of silver cufflinks that he had made. In addition to offering these cufflinks (lot 17), Keno Auctions is the first to publish Freeman’s own photographs of Calder, taken at the artist’s home in Roxbury, CT, and at his studio at Saché, near Azay-le-Rideau, in the Indre-et-Loire District of France.
John and his first wife, Sally A. Bennett, met at Yale while he was finishing his B.A. in English and she her BFA in Sculpture. Also at Yale, the couple made friends with Sewell (“Si”) Sillman, who had recently left Black Mountain College in the footsteps of his professor, Joseph Albers. It was Sillman, himself eventually a professor at Yale Art School, who introduced the newlyweds to the woven-wire sculpture of his Black Mountain classmate Ruth Asawa. Once settled in New York, the couple saw Asawa’s work in December 1954 at the Peridot Gallery, her first solo exhibition, and bought one of her largest pieces.
The 103-inch form fit comfortably in the large recreation room at Wave Hill. It was there that Calder, possibly for the first time, was exposed to the work of Asawa. John recalled Calder’s immediate impression, interest and curiosity in the hanging sculpture and its origins.
This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A26795.