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Wendell Castle

(b. 1932)

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Biography

American furniture artist Wendell Castle creates unique pieces that often meander beyond the traditional boundaries of even decorative furniture, placing him in a niche that has puzzled those wanting to make a specific distinction between designers and sculptors. Although he often exhibits as a sculptor, his furniture designs for residential clients, public spaces and a number of churches represent a unique exploration of the qualities and possibilities of wood and fiberglass, experienced at a high level of craftsmanship.

Castle was born in Kansas and received a BFA from the University of Kansas in Industrial Design and an MFA in sculpture, graduating in 1961. He then moved to Rochester, New York to teach at the School of American Craftsmen and established a permanent studio in the area. He also served as head of the woodworking department at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Stylistically, his furniture can often be grouped by the different approaches he takes to the base. The exhibition catalog, Wooden, from the Minnesota Museum of Art, defines the categories as: (1) an involved sculptural base, almost like a table to support the table, (2) a small base anchored to the floor and (3) the elimination of any base at all, with the piece fastened to the wall or ceiling. Of the first method Castle wrote that, "I kind of like the thing underneath the most. I was interested in...getting the base out from under the table and making the whole thing a piece of sculpture." His chairs, especially a swooping mid 1970s rocking chair, are often shaped by this approach as well. The small anchored base was, to Castle, like a plant that will "come up with one very small stalk and still have lots of flowers." He would, within the base, make structural amenities for a number of functional elements like lamps and chairs, as well as sometimes including a concealed door that would reveal shelves or drawers. This method is most specific to the use of wood, because, although Castle works the surface to create a desired look, the resemblance to the natural form of the tree is difficult to overlook. For the pieces without a base Castle would leave the object to flow from the foundation of the space into the form of a table or chair. He also created a very limited edition of plastic furniture. The work as a whole, though hard to pin down within a movement, bears the marks of having been inspired by Art Nouveau and the Arts & Crafts School of design. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Castle created furniture with fiberglass-coated plastic, exploring some of the same forms and ideas as those he'd tried in wood. Inspired by the Italian Pop furniture movement he created designs for Beylerian Ltd. and Stendig. His "Molar" chair was a whimsical example of this style.

Castle has served as Chairman of the Sculpture Department at SUNY Brockport and has garnered a number of awards including a 1994 'Visionaries of the American Craft Movement' award sponsored by the American Craft Museum, and a 1997 Gold Medal from the American Craft Council. He has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Comfort Tiffany Foundation, among others. Of his work as a whole he has written that his aim is to create so that a piece "performs some useful function in addition to, I hope, being beautiful."