Some Said Mary Mace Had Bats in Her Belfry, Until She Proved Who Made the Toys in the Basement

updated 01/26/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/26/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Retired librarian Mary Mace, 73, was helping to take inventory at the small Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass. when she stumbled across a one-line entry in a dusty acquisition book: "June 18, 1954. 9 Calder Toys, Painted wooden toys, used." "I let out a whoop," recalls Mace, who suspected she had happened upon forgotten, formative works by the artist Alexander Calder, who died in 1976. "Do you think we still have them?" Mace asked her colleagues. "And, if so, could they be found?"

Indeed they could, in a box in the basement. Others had looked at the toys and doubted their origin. Not Mace. "As soon as I saw the duck—he's got that glint in his eye—I knew he could have been made by no one other than Calder. It was done with a sense of humor." The next day (at her age, she notes, "anything that's important to me I do now") she visited the local registry of deeds and discovered that the family who had donated the toys had owned a house that previously belonged to the Calder family. Joan Marter, a Rutgers University art history professor and Calder expert, says that the toys probably were prototypes of a series the young artist once designed for a Wisconsin manufacturer.

Mace hopes money will be found to repair the toys so that they can be put on display. She's also getting a kick out of the publicity. Says Mace, a volunteer: "It pleases me to think that on that day I really earned my salary."

From Our Partners