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2009-04-16 (form), -05-25, -12-31, 2010-03-08, -09-25

Mobiles are hanging arrangements of items that move easily in the breeze arranged so large portions are balanced against small portions or devices made like that to move with a motor. National Gallery of Art-Calder Exhibition  Stabiles and Mobiles  This page shows several of Calder's and several decorative ones of mine including a giant show display from the 1960's.
The original mobiles were created by Alexander Calder ("'mobile' -- a word coined in 1931 by artist Marcel Duchamp") and consisted of brightly painted metal plates connected by short wires such that movement was restricted and the overall pattern of shapes could not change much. (right)  His tend to arc outward, pieces perhaps suggesting splash marks of a stone skipped on water. The lower right image with insert detail shows these wire hook with loop attachments.  Some of his plates were mounted flat (below) and others vertically.  Clouds, below, are kept in line and are turned from the center pivot.  Lighter pieces, right, involve shadow interplay on the wall from directed lighting. 
Calder flat mobile in Milwaukee Art Museum
Items - the individual visual pieces of the mobile
Support - or rod - the horizontal elements of the mobile that separate the items and support them.
Hanger - or hanging point - the top mount of the mobile.
Line - the connection between items and supports, which may be thread, fishing line, cord or rope depending on scale and may not exist separately as in Calder's direct use of loops of wire in the supports.

I grew up with mobiles made by my mother in the late 40's and early 50's where the items being hung might be seashells, leaves or metal representations of leaves, or almost anything.  These were mounted with threads on longish rods or thin branches and each was free to pivot completely around.  While at Iowa State University in the mid - 60's, I built a mobile as a stage set for a synchronized swimming show (below)


Making a mobile with glass pieces involves dealing with the weight of the glass.  One can make a bold statement with heavier pieces of wire, use wood shapes, or add a yoke as with the stage piece.  Notice the truss structure of the supports for the Calder clouds unit above, consider how much heavier it would look if the beam side were filled in.  Or one can intentionally use a light pieces of glass as will produce the effect.

  Building a mobile is a matter of arranging the pieces in a pleasing layout, perhaps on a piece of paper, sketching in the support rods, then building from the bottom up, making each pair balance then each group balance against the counter item.  With practice, noticing the very heavy that will balance against several items becomes obvious, but at first it is likely that a layout will be attempted that can not be made to balance and also be attractive.
  Very light items - origami, real leaves, dried butterflies - have little momentum - a draft may make them move, but they stop quickly. Heavy items may not move in a draft at all but will keep moving if touched.  One solution is to put a heavy item on a support close to the balance and a light item way out - the light item moving in a slight breeze or draft and the momentum of the heavy part keeping it moving.  The weight of the supports may provide momentum - I have one made of artificial leaves with thin branches for supports that is pleasing in movement from central heating vents.
  Not fitting the usual definition of a mobile, the seashell handing form at right, strips of light fabric hung like banners to move in drafts, and paper hangings like the origami cranes on thread at the Crow oriental museum can make for attractive units.

  I use carpet thread most often and use a basic slip knot for fastening so I can adjust for balance and appearance, coming back with a touch of glue to fix the location and knot in place.  Using monofilament fishing line will make a less visible line but one that is harder to knot and less free to twist.  Thin wire is even less free to twist and may be difficult to keep completely straight as it holds its own bends.  With enough size and weight in the items and supports, coarser string or light rope may make an attractive line, provide necessary visual confidence to viewers, and flex enough to transmit torque to the other pieces to enhance overall rotation.
  I have found that I like a denser arrangement of pieces in most cases - that is, I like to have all the pieces forming a closely related visual group that shifts within the group.
  There are two other alternatives.  One is a very sparse arrangement - Calder used, during WWII, 3 or 4 wood shapes a few inches across that were spaced over several feet, the hanging wires being lines connecting the pieces..  The other is in between - an arrangement that is closely related at times but some or all of the elements swing out well away from the concentrated area - this requires a hanging arrangement of short arms and long arms so the piece unfolds from the most compact position.
  I prefer to hang a mobile from a fishing swivel, some come with ball bearings, so that it does not always come to rest in the same rotational direction which tends to happen with a firm hanger connection.  Some mobiles, such as Calder's Clouds above require a motor to provide movement and high quality bearings to provide rotation below.


 The guy who invented the mobile, Calder, as sculpture also created the stabile, which was supposed to be firmly on the ground. Calder's stabiles don't move much because most of them are pretty heavy and we aren't supposed to touch them (the sign says.)
Here are a bunch of pictures (Google search) many of which show pieces with no moving parts. I like them better when they do.
Now the Nasher, here in Dallas, has one of each type  and they say the stabiles have no moving parts. (click on images) which confuses me. And I swear they have a heavier one than the Spider shown on that page.
If you look at the Spider, you will see that like many of his mobiles, it consists of wire (or rods) with a loop at the hanging point and fairly rigid connections (not the strings used on craft mobiles) So the wire and the shapes make line and form combinations.
To make a moving mobile/stable, you lay out the cutout shapes that will be on the wires/rods, and then you start from the bottom making a piece with shapes on each end and finding the balance point. Then you use that whole unit as one end of the next wire up and put a shape out at the end and balance that (like hold it with needle nose pliers and loosen the grip and slide the wire till it balances on one jaw, taking a grip if it starts to tilt too far.

Mobile made with copper leaf forms and branches
Mobile made of copper leaf shapes hung from slightly carved real branches (click to enlarge)

Mobile made of cut crystal sphere knobs and ornaments hung on heavy copper wire
 Mobile made of cut crystal spheres from cabinet knobs and other sources hung by thin thread from slightly bent thick steel wire. The mass of the spheres makes movement in house drafts unlikely, so placing it to be touched may be useful. Since moved to a window that gets direct sun along a passage way - throws small rainbow stripes on walls and floor. Mobile in progress made os seashells glued to carpet thread
 Mobile/chime in progress with carpet thread glued to seashells hung from a spiral of copper wire, hung close together for sound.

This mobile is made of real branches and selections of leaves from artificial vines sold at Michaels or Hobby Lobby. Very light so it moves in heating/AC drafts.  Not a lot of effort in making or photographing, obviously. 2009-05-25
The images below show the largest mobile I ever designed and built, which was done back in 1965.  The synchronized swimming group Naiads, of which I was the only male member for two years, had performed their annual shows in the women's pool which had limited seating on one side.  ISU built a huge new Natatorium in the area of the men's gym facilities and snagged the NCAA swimming and diving finals. My second year, Naiads got to use the large T-shaped pool for their show and I proposed this design to hang over the diving pool portion farthest from the audience.  Each item is related to some element of the show and include a guitar, a cupped hand, a mask, a musical note and a G clef each in a window frame, a mask and the Naiads logo of a female swimmer silhouette on a narrow hexagon shape..  Each had some kind of frame which served also to protect them during mounting.  Because they were over water, the unit had to be assembled on the side, lifted clear of the deck on one line then pulled to the center on the main hanging line while letting out the side lifting line.  Getting access to the ceiling space and getting the pieces in involved considerable negotiations.  When the NCAA came in, they simply took out a huge window that looked from a hallway for access and clear TV shots.
 The thin black and wood color horizontal support bars are 1x2 lumber. Barely visible in these images is the rope yoke that goes from the ends of each support to shape the curve and take most of the weight of the pieces; without the yoke the supports would bend and snap, thus they are actually pushing the ends of the yoke ropes out.  As I recall, each piece weighed 10-15 pounds - the guitar and hand were hollow paper structures built on a wire frame. 2010-03-08
Mobile installed in Iowa State Natatorium for Naiads 1965 Swim show

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