My family, like a few other people who have lived in Philadelphia for a few generations, have a calder story. My life began with my grandfather.
I didn’t know my grandfather. But for a while, it was known.
William McCook used to own the Cliveden leads on Seventh and Arch. He passed away long before I was born, and no one talked about him when I was growing up, but at one point, Cliveden Yarns mattered. According to vintage catalogs – which You can still buy online – It was one of the largest retail stores in the country. Once, when I used a credit card at a thread store in Chestnut Hill, an employee saw my name and asked if I belonged to the family that owned Cliveden threads.
So when my grandfather told everyone he bought Original artwork by Alexander Calder, perhaps sometime in the 1940s or 1950s—a metal-formed mobile phone roughly two feet high and three feet wide—was not so far fetched. It looked like one of the artist’s signature works, and New Calder Museum planned for the Parkway You will probably be filled with others just like her.
Over the years, my family has spoken more about our calder than they did about my grandfather. My grandmother hung it on the stairs, and then when she died, my father inherited it. When my father moved into an apartment in Cathedral Village in Roxborough at the end of 2013, I hung a mobile phone next to his chair. As his health deteriorated and he needed more help, people in and out continued to confront him, causing the delicate, balanced figures on the cantilevered wires to glow and twist into place. Packing His Apartment After he moved in to help live in June 2019, I knew I had to figure out what to do with an original piece of art.
First, it must be insured, which requires an assessment. I searched online, contacted anyone I found, and eventually, at the end of 2019, someone directed me to Calder Foundation in New York.
that they Need a professional color photo to work, which had to “render all aspects of the work in crisp detail”, on a clean background with minimal shadows, all elements turned to face the camera. It took hours to try and position each moving piece perfectly, and the photographer needed two sessions ($200 total) to get the image just right.
I was elated when the Calder Foundation told me, on January 9, 2020, that the piece looked like it was original, and that they wanted to check it out the next day, January 20.
To move it, I paid a local company $860 to design a custom bag. The costs were piling up, but I kept telling myself it was an investment. My grandfather said it was the original calder, a piece of Philadelphia history. It was worth it.
On the day of the exam, I stood in line at the loading dock on West 25th Street in Manhattan with about five or six other people, all of whom were there for the same reason. We didn’t say much to each other. I dropped the piece at 10am, had lunch with a friend who was working nearby, picked it up at 3pm, didn’t see any testers, and knew nothing of their operation.
I had to wait a week for results, during which time I was a bundle of nerves. Will I be a millionaire? Will this piece of art change my life?
At last, the moment came, and I called; I sat nervous. The appraiser came.
She told me it wasn’t Calder.
I was silent to the beat, dumbfounded. What?
She said I’m sorry. He was so popular that many artists imitated him, and some of these works It may have been wrongly attributed to him. At most, she said, it was worth a few hundred dollars. Then he apologized again.
When I found out that my family tradition was a lie, I was shattered. (Millions!) But I wasn’t completely surprised. Because just as the legend of Jedi Calder has faded, so have Cliveden’s threads.
The once huge family business was supposed to pass to my father one day; Since I was an only child, he would probably have passed on to me. But like anyone who knows what Seventh and Arch look like today, it didn’t. My grandfather drank a lot, died young, and work died soon after.
I will never know if my grandfather cheated on us or if he cheated on us, knowing it was a fake and telling everyone it was original. Either way, I think he would have been pleased to hear that Philadelphia would be home to the New Calder Museum, which is a short walk from where the Cliveden Threads used to be.
I imagine he would walk around the set, pointing to the various cell phones, and tell anyone listening, “I have one just like it.”
Alison McCook is assistant opinion editor at The Inquirer.