Rickey was born on June 6, 1907 in South Bend, Indiana. When Rickey was a child, his father, an executive with Singer Sewing Machine Company, moved the family to Helensburgh.
He grew up in Helensburgh and played with his neighbours' children in the Hill House. Growing up on the Clyde was clearly a formative experience for Rickey. During a 1982 retrospective exhibition in Glasgow, on the banks in the Clyde, curated by Barbara Grigor, Rickey talked much of his childhood experiences. "In making sculpture I find myself using my Scottish education every day, including the arithmetic," he said. Then there was his father's yacht. "I experienced the action of the wind and the laws of motion first hand."
Rickey was educated at Glenalmond College and received a degree in History from Balliol College, Oxford. He spent a short time travelling Europe and studied art in Paris. He then returned to the United States and began teaching at the Groton School.
After leaving Groton, Rickey worked at various schools throughout the country teaching painting.
In 1942, Rickey joined the United States Army, where he worked in engineering. Following his discharge, he studied art at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts and later at the Chicago Institute of Design, funded by the G.I. Bill. Rickey later moved on to Indiana University. There, he met and was inspired by the work of David Smith.
Beginning in the early-1950s, Rickey shifted his focus from painting to sculpture and began creating kinetic sculpture. In his own work, Rickey combined his love of engineering and mechanics, Smith's graceful, yet solid, cubic forms, and the mobiles of Alexander Calder. Rickey was able to design sculptures whose metal parts moved in response to the slightest air currents. These parts were often very large, sometimes weighing tons.
Most of his work was created in his studio in East Chatham, NY, where he moved after taking a position as a professor of architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. He retired from teaching in 1966 after five years at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but continued to make sculpture, and maintained studios in Berlin, Germany and Santa Barbara, California. Rickey's last sculpture - his tallest, measuring 57 feet 1 inch - was installed at the Hyogo Museum in Japan in 2002.
Sadly, Glasgow, the city he loved, spurned his gift of a major sculpture. To celebrate his 1982 retrospective there, which coincided with the first visit of a Pope to Scotland, Rickey accepted the Lord Provost Michael Kelly's initiative and presented the city with a significant piece. On the day that it was erected, some civic functionary deemed it unsafe and had it despatched to the Parks Department out-door stores from where it was eventually stolen.
This never diminished Rickey's regard for the people of Glasgow and he would eventually make light of the whole farcical affair when he was given the Lord Provost's Award in 1998 on his last visit to Scotland. More significantly, he presented the Mackintosh house in Helensburgh with one of his sinuously moving sculptures, where the winds of the Clyde still keep it in perpetual motion.
Rickey received Honorary Doctorate degrees from nine institutions and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1974. In 1995 he was awarded the Gold Medal for Sculpture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
He died in his home in Saint Paul, Minnesota on July 17, 2002 at the age of 95.
Based upon an article in The Independent by Murray Grigor.