Wednesday, July 19, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Calder's `Eagle' purchased for Olympic Sculpture Park

The Seattle Art Museum has acquired a major sculptural work, the massive "Eagle," by Alexander Calder. The 39-foot-tall, steel sculpture is the first big acquisition for SAM's Olympic Sculpture Park, set to open next to downtown's Myrtle Edwards Park in 2003.

The museum purchased the sculpture with funding from Jon and Mary Shirley, local philanthropists who have been prominent patrons of visual arts in this region. The Shirleys have also been among the main backers of the new downtown sculpture park.

The museum would not reveal the purchase price or the sellers of the sculpture, which is on loan to Calder's native city of Philadelphia. It's due to arrive in Seattle in the fall, and SAM is searching for a public place for it to stay until the sculpture park opens.

Calder, who died in 1976, was perhaps the best-known sculptor of large-scale works in the 20th century, known for massive steel mobiles suspended from the ceilings of public spaces. Calder created "Eagle" in 1971, at the "apex of his career," according to Mimi Gates, director of SAM. "Eagle" is one of Calder's "stabiles," or nonmoving works.

The bright-red sculpture resembles an origami figure on a huge scale. Although it's an abstract work, it's easy to see the references to wings and flight in its form.

"It represents a wonderful balance between abstraction and representation," Gates said. "It's both graceful, and light, but at the same time majestic; it sort of bursts upwards into space. It soars."

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