Wendell Castle (1932-2018) is possibly the most celebrated and revered American woodworker in this country’s history. He received innumerable awards and honors over a professional career that spanned five decades. These include a 1994 “Visionary of the American Craft Movement” and a Gold Medal in 1997, both from the American Craft Council, and a lifetime achievement award for Excellence in Design from the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2007. Castle’s work has been internationally acclaimed and is in the permanent collection of over 40 museums world-wide, including the Art Institute (Chicago), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Smithsonian Institute’s American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (London).
Born and raised in Kansas, Castle was a below-average student and lacked self-confidence because of being dyslexic, but this handicap was gradually overcome through sheer creative determination. The turning point in Castle’s artistic career came in 1961 while he was attending the University of Kansas to obtain his Master of Fine Arts degree, specializing in sculpture. Needing a wooden toolbox, and unable to find one that fit his specific requirements, Castle decided to make one. This was the beginning of an almost 60-year period of producing objects in wood that were both sculptural and utilitarian, in addition to being exemplary works of art.
Castle, after receiving his Master’s the following year, moved to Rochester, New York and served as an instructor, and later an Artist in Residence, at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It was there that he refined and perfected the inventive process of woodworking that he called “stack lamination.” Castle had first discovered the technique as a young boy when he read an article in Popular Mechanics that described how to create a wooden duck decoy using a similar method. However, he did not attempt the process until nearly 30 years later. By creating and assembling pre-sawn wood blocks, rather than carving objects from large single pieces of wood, Castle was free to design and produce practically any biomorphic form he could imagine.
Wendell Castle was constantly, and brilliantly, challenging the limits of the materials he was working with, as well as his unrestrained imagination. He based his life and career on ten “Adopted Rules of Thumb.” One was “if you hit the bull’s-eye every time, the target is too near.” Another was “if you don’t expect the unexpected, you will not find it,” and a third was “don’t get too serious.” It was this attitude and resolve that continuously pushed Castle to seek excellence and originality throughout his entire artistic life and in every one of his creations.