George Rickey:

A Life in Balance

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.


“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 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.