Art furniture legend Wendell Castle dies at 85
January 23, 2018 | 12:47 pm CST
SCOTTSVILLE, N.Y. - Known around the world for unifying freeform sculpture and furniture making, furniture maker and sculptor Wendell Castle has died at the age of 85. The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where Castle was an artist-in-residence, said that Castle ultimately fell to leukemia.
"One can’t seriously discuss the birth of art furniture and the studio furniture movement without talking about Wendell Castle. His work, especially the earlier pieces, which brought freeform sculpture and furniture together in one medium, influenced more than one generation of woodworkers and furniture designers," said Woodworking Network editor Will Sampson.
Born in Kansas in 1932, he studied both industrial design and fine arts degrees at the University of Kansas, and practiced as a sculptor and designer for more than four decades. Though he worked with many materials, wood was often his material of choice.
"Wood and bronze are the ideal materials for furniture," Castle said in an interview with Dezeen last year. "They provide unlimited opportunities to do pretty much anything you want in regards to form."
Having never taken a formal cabinetmaking or furniture course other than a woodshop class in the seventh grade, Castle used to obtain wood from a gunstock factory, using rejected stock blanks. He used a drill press and a band saw. “I dowelled everything because that’s all I knew,” he said. His early furniture all came out of his study of sculpture.
“How come furniture can’t be art,” he asked. “I did pieces as sculpture, but it was really furniture.” He started to question basic furniture design tenets. For example, he asked why legs have to come out of the bottom of a table and then built a coffee table in which the legs flow around the sides and suspend the top from above.
Castle taught at RIT from 1962 to 1969, and was an artist-in-residence there up until his death.
"Wendell Castle is known the world over for his contributions to the field of art and design," said Josh Owen, professor and chair of RIT's industrial design program. "He gifted us with his enthusiasm, his eagerness to collaborate and share, and his generosity to deliver his intentions with tangible and always elegant results."
Castle's works can be found in the collections of over 50 international museums.
Castle is survived by his wife, fellow artist Nancy Jurs; two children, Alison and Bryon; and two grandchildren, Arabella and Archibald Staropoli.
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