George Rickey:

A Life in Balance

“Rathbone has written a model artist’s biography. She deftly interweaves life and art, showing how Rickey’s real-world experiences shaped his evolving aesthetic. She discusses [his art] with authority and insight…”
The New Criterion

The first biography of George Rickey, one of the greatest kinetic sculptors of the 20th century. His moving blades, squares, triangles, and circles can be found in museums and public spaces around the world, from bucolic landscapes to the streets of New York City. Now, here is the story of his life, his times, and his vision of balance that created something new―sculpture that is defined by movement.

Before his death in 2002, George Rickey created more than 3,000 moving sculptures, including hundreds of major outdoor installations. His “useless machines,” as he called them, achieved complete rotation, used multiple variations of the pendulum, and delighted viewers with the joyride effects of conical movement.

George Rickey: A Life in Balance follows the life of a renowned artist―first a painter, then a sculptor―who found inspiration all around him―as a child visiting the Singer Sewing Machine factory managed by his father, in his adventurous youth in the London and Paris art studios of the 1920s, as an engineer in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and later as a pioneer in academic art programs around the United States when he embarked on the sculpture he became famous for.

But this is not only the story of a single artist’s creativity and achievement but of Rickey’s life in the larger context of the twentieth century: from Depression-era America to the upheaval of World War II, from the rise of New York as the world’s art capital at mid-century to the tumultuous 1960s, when Rickey emerged as an international figure rubbing elbows with Alexander Calder, David Smith, Christo, and many others. It is also the story of an exceptional marriage and of Rickey’s charismatic, devoted wife, Edith Leighton, who managed her husband’s career and reputation in the high-powered art circles of New York, Berlin, and Los Angeles.

Belinda Rathbone (author of The Boston Raphael and Walker Evans: A Biography) has captured the spirit of an artist and his world in this deeply researched and engrossing biography. George Rickey: A Life in Balance is for any reader fascinated by the lives of artists, the creation of enduring art, or twentieth century modernism. Includes 30 photographs that document Rickey’s life and work.

CRITICAL PRAISE

“Rathbone’s marvelously readable biography succeeds in bringing the Rickeys and the world in which they lived into timely focus. Meticulously researched yet free of academic jargon, the book offers 21st-century readers a rare glimpse into a moment and a movement that’s overdue for fuller understanding and appreciation. ”
Santa Barbara Independent

“Rathbone has written a model artist’s biography. She chronicles her subject’s life, offering illuminating insights into his character, personality, and motivations, while not whitewashing his faults. She deftly interweaves life and art, showing how Rickey’s real-world experiences shaped his evolving aesthetic. Rathbone has written a very important book, one remarkably like the creations of her subject, where all connections are made clearly and cleanly and the whole structure is well-balanced and completely transparent.”
The New Criterion

“If you’re of a mindset (like I typically am) that biographies are dry (whereas memoirs aren’t), you’ll be captivated by Rathbone’s exceptional prose and impeccable research.”
Lorraine Kleinwaks, Enchanted Prose

ADVANCE PRAISE

“Belinda Rathbone’s George Rickey: A Life in Balance is far more than a portrait of the artist, although with deft strokes and canny perspectives this master biographer renders a fully satisfying account of an energetically lived life. But there is this, too: a skillfully told history of twentieth century art, from Cubism to Constructivism and beyond, woven into the life story of a brilliant and influential practitioner whose working years spanned six decades and whose circles of association reached across the globe. Read George Rickey to be inspired, educated, and immersed in what the sculptor called his “box of colors,” the stunning elements of his visual vocabulary Rathbone names: gravity, momentum, inertia, rotation, acceleration.”
—Megan Marshall, author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast

“Deftly navigating a massive archive of personal letters, notebooks, and interviews, Rathbone humanizes George Rickey, an artist-intellectual whose kinetic sculptures are canonical in the history of postwar modernism. She presents the man intimately: his childhood in Scotland, his elite education, his years as a painter, his teaching, writing and worldly travels, his international recognition, and his friends and family, especially his spirited wife Edie. Rathbone’s brilliant research and incisive narration basks in George Rickey’s good company as well as his mechanical wizardry.”
—Wanda M. Corn, author of The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1955

“Belinda Rathbone has crafted a superb and deeply researched biography. She constructs a narrative that adroitly chronicles the life of the great kinetic sculptor George Rickey, a deeply erudite, intellectual, and creative man, and his tumultuous era. Equally satisfying and timely is Rathbone’s fascinating portrayal of the powerful alliance between Rickey and his charming, strong-willed wife, Edie Rickey.”
Gabrielle Selz, author of Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis

“In her enthralling biography, Belinda Rathbone traces George Rickey’s long Wanderjahre—artistic, intellectual and erotic—across Europe and the United States, and shows how his dual training in art and engineering helped him re-invent kinetic sculpture for the postwar era. In the second half of the book, Rickey’s tempestuous marriage to Edie Leighton provides a dramatic counterpoint to his growing professional success. From beginning to end, Rathbone adeptly explores the mysteries of art and love.”
—Pepe Karmel, author of Abstract Art: A Global History

Belinda Rathbone is a biographer and historian who has written widely on 20th-century American photography. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Walker Evans: A Biography, as well as important essays on the work of Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, and many contemporary artists and photographers. As a fine arts journalist, she has written for House and Garden, The World of Interiors, and the magazine Antiques.

Rathbone’s books from Godine include the memoir, The Guynd: Love & Other Repairs in Rural Scotland and The Boston Raphael: A Mysterious Painting, an Embattled Museum in an Era of Change & A Daughter’s Search for the Truth.