Jan 29, 2020
News

A set of Alexander Calder banners, long feared lost, went back on display.

The Bicentennial Banners designed by Alexander Calder and executed by Sheila Hicks, back on view at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Bicentennial Banners designed by Alexander Calder and executed by Sheila Hicks, back on view at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Eight Alexander Calder banners, thought to be lost for decades, have found a permanent home at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Two of the banners, depicting suns and abstract vines in Calder’s preferred palette of blacks, reds, blues, and yellows, are already on display, while the others are still being restored in New York City. The works, called The Bicentennial Banners in honor of the United States’ bicentennial in 1976, are the only banners Calder ever created.
“Displaying The Bicentennial Banners upholds the Free Library’s mission to inspire curiosity as they will not only invite viewing but will also serve as the catalyst for innovative public programming that will engage our customers with the art,” Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library, said in a statement.
The Bicentennial Banners designed by Alexander Calder and executed by Sheila Hicks, back on view at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Bicentennial Banners designed by Alexander Calder and executed by Sheila Hicks, back on view at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Real-estate developer and art collector Jack Wolgin commissioned the banners in 1976 during the creation of Philadelphia’s Centre Square office complex, in part to fulfill a requirement that 1 percent of the project’s budget be devoted to public art. Calder created the banner as gouache paintings, which were later transformed into applique banners by the renowned textile artist Sheila Hicks. After Wolgin sold the development in the early 1980s, the banners disappeared, leading some to think they’d been damaged or destroyed.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wolgin hoped to “provide art that would enhance Philadelphia by integrating into the daily life of those who live or work in the city the joy and inspiration derived from great art.”
But in 2000, they were uncovered in storage, and, excepting a brief display of four of the banners in 2009, they stayed there until now. Although the banners were anonymous donations to the library, the Inquirer speculates that they were donated by the new owners of Centre Square, Nightingale Properties.

Further Reading: Understanding Alexander Calder through 6 Pivotal Artworks

Further Reading: At 84, Sheila Hicks Is Still Making Defiant, Honest Art