The family of the late sculptor Alexander Calder boycotted the Medal of Freedom Awards ceremony at the White House yesterday as a statement favoring amnesty for Vietnam draft resisters but the action was not mentioned at the reception.
Calder, the great American artist who invented the mobile, was one of 22 people honored by President Ford with the Freedom Award, the nation's highest civilian honor. Calder died in November.
The artist's widow, Louisa Calder, said the family was "not exactly refusing" the award. "We could not make that decision, the honor was in his name," she explained from her home in New York CVty. "But my husband felt and the family feels very strongly about freedom. In our telegram to President Ford we said freedom should be for everyone and freedom meant total amnesty."
In his lifetime, his widow explained, Calder had supported many pacifist causes, mainly through the donations of his art. On Jan. 2, 1966, the Calders took a full-page ad in The New York Times wishing a new year of peace on behalf of A National Committee for a SANE Nucaear Policy (SANE).
After the noontime ceremony, Ron Nessen, the White House press secretary, said he "didn't have any knowledge" of the Calder boycott. A condolence remark by the President to the widow of Sen. Philip A. Hart (D-Mich.), who died last month, led some to hope that he might act on a broader amnesty program than he would support earlier.
At the ceremony Ford appeared relaxed, kissing Lady Bird Johnson, the former first Lady, who received a standing ovation from the 150 guests and joking with orchestra leader Arthur Fiedler, who was a half-hour late. Also present was five-star Gen. Omar Bradley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who because of failing health was in a wheelchair.
"You are all here because of your great contributions to American life," Ford told the recipents. "As we move into our third century it is necessary that men and women in this country create, innovate, explore and set the highest standards, whatever their vocation."
In the group, which was all white and predominately male and elderly, were I. W. Abel, president of the United Steelworkers of America; Norma Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize-winning agricultural scientist; Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, former Chief of Naval Operations; Bruce Catton, historian; Ariel and William Durant, Pultizer Prize-winning authors; Henry Jacob Friendly, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge; James A. Michener, novelist; Nelso A. Rockefeller, the Vice President; Catherine Shouse, cultural philanthropist Wolf Trap donor; Lowell Thomas, author and broadcast commentator, and James Dewey Watson, Nobel Prize-winning educator and biochemist.
Also absent from the ceremony but represented by family members were John Bardeen, Nobel Prize-winning physicist; Joe DiMaggio, retired base-ball star; Archibald MacLeish, Pultizer Prize-winning poet, and Artist Norman Rockwell. Ford said the medals for the other winners, composer Irving Berlin, artist George O'Keefe, and Calder, would be presented later.