Wendell Castle


Artist Wendell Castle, acclaimed figure of the American art furniture movement, died on Saturday, January 20, 2018. He was 85 years old. Castle is recognized internationally for having invented the genre of art furniture. A great artist, indeed, Castle was also a beloved mentor and teacher of many who paved the way for younger generations of artists. However, it was his approach to design as a fine art form that will sustain his legacy for decades to come.

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Castle was recently celebrated at MAG with the largest exhibition yet of his groundbreaking achievements. In honor of the master furniture maker, designer, sculptor, and educator, Wendell Castle Remastered was extended a week to January 7, 2018.

“Wendell is a towering figure in the international world of art and design,” said Jonathan P. Binstock, MAG’s Mary W. and Donald R. Clark Director. “At the same time, his importance to Rochester cannot be overstated. He was an icon who will long remain an inspiration and leading light of our local arts and cultural communities.”

Castle’s prolific career of more than 60 years began in 1958 and parallels the emergence and growth of the American studio craft movement. He moved to the Rochester area in 1962 to accept a position at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen. Castle participated in group exhibitions in 1963 and 1964; and in 1965, his work Blanket Chest won the Juror’s Award at MAG’s then annual Finger Lakes Exhibition. MAG purchased Blanket Chest, the artist’s first work to enter a museum collection. With the prize, he was awarded a solo show. Designed by Wendell Castle, presented from December 1965 to January 1966, was the artist’s first museum exhibition.

Today, interest in Castle’s art has never been greater. His latest solo museum exhibition, Wendell Castle Remastered, was organized by the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, and a version of it was recently on view at MAG. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City will mount a solo exhibition of his art the summer of 2018.

After years of teaching at RIT, in 1980 Castle established the Wendell Castle School in Scottsville, NY, where he lived and worked. In 1984 he returned to RIT as a tenured professor and artist in residence, and in 1988 the Wendell Castle School was absorbed into the School for American Craftsmen.

In November 1990 the exhibition Furniture of Wendell Castle opened at MAG. Originally organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, it was his first career retrospective survey.

MAG’s permanent collection holds 13 works by the artist, including what he once described as his most important work of the 1960s, the monumental Library Sculpture (1968), as well as Unicorn Family, an outdoor sculptural installation commissioned for the museum’s Centennial Sculpture Park and unveiled in 2013. Watch a video of his creative process.

wendell castle by matt wittmeyer

Wendell Castle photo by Matt Wittmeyer (detail)

“As important and influential as he was,” Binstock also said, “Wendell showed up at art openings in Rochester, no matter how small or grand. He was always the best-dressed, coolest guy in the room, and he was genial, approachable, down to earth—a farm boy from Kansas, as he was wont to say. He supported his friends and colleagues; he supported the arts community. He contributed generously to the art scene and especially to MAG. He will be sorely missed. All of us at the museum send our condolences to his wife, the artist Nancy Jurs, and their entire family.”

Castle is represented by and shows regularly at Friedman Benda, an art gallery in Chelsea, New York City, and at Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery in London and Paris.

Photo (top): Wendell Castle by Matthew Mann / University of Rochester