WENDELL CASTLE | A Remembrance

Carpenters Workshop Gallery is deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend Wendell Castle. Described by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where he remained an artist-in-residence until his death, as the « father of the art furniture movement », Wendell will forever be remembered as a pivotal figure in American furniture.

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. Inexhaustibly creative to the last, Wendell Castle was in the midst of preparing a new body of work when he passed away, at the age of eighty-five.

Pioneer of the “American Studio Craft” movement, Wendell Castle has, over the years, scattered the seeds of his creative work, inspired by the vitality of natural forms, a poetic alchemy that heightens the senses.

Enriched by his apprenticeships and volunteer work, he sharpened his thoughts at the end of his pencil and then models the material. Firmly situated in his era, he embarked on a paradoxical and singular journey. In a rapidly expanding industrial society, at the dawn of the 1970s, he invented a language of furniture within a sculptural dimension, working with plywood. 

In order to share his aesthetic choices, he approached industrial production. Supported by the company Stendig Beylerian associates, where several of the artist’s models were produced, including his ‘Molar’ collection, in plastic mould.

His creative journey nourished him, for these functional sculptures, it sparked an obsessive imagination drawn from observations in nature and its presence in space. Nature’s growth, terrestrial power, the curve of the form, the illusion of balance, are all virtues that enrich his aesthetic vocabulary. His work often appeared dictated by the power of the wood. The curve dominates and liberates itself in space, opposing mass, the lightness of its flight.

This relentless vitality from Wendell’s gesture traced a story in a poetic trajectory. Without losing momentum, he returned to his craft, the artisanal gesture heightening the material. ‘Two seater,’ the desk ‘444,’ the chairs ‘Zephyr’ and ‘Alpha’ were designed in the 1970s, having not lost any of their beauty, the artist’s work grew older, without aging. 

Following in the footsteps of Wharton Esherick and George Nakashima, he gave feeling and sensuality to an object. An artisan of exception, he experimented in embellishment techniques and in the finishing touch of wood. Concerned with perfection, he controled the volume, the grain and the skin of his creations. On the blank page of his notebook, he planed out the tiniest contours of his projects. His passion and skill for his trade encouraged him to share his expertise, founding a school where he shared his ideas and know-how with many apprentices.

Working with the teams in his workshop, he composed an ode to wood. « Wood and bronze are the ideal materials for furniture," Wendell said shortly after the opening of his « Planting Seeds » exhibition at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris last year. He selected the material, adds to it, compacts it and questions it. The uninterrupted thread throughout his collections propose a material that renews itself, sculpted with a chisel, smoothed with a fine grain, grooved with a saw, it anticipated the sculpted block to the depths of ebony, effects that transform in the light.

The pieces from the last few years unfold in a vast panoramic landscape, one by one, they take their place in the sensual and troubling world of Wendell. Growing and budding, petals flush to the surface of the earth in an upward movement towards elsewhere, making its home in the original shell.

Carpenters Workshop Gallery began working with Wendell in 2011. He was part of our family and will be greatly missed.