Wendell Castle's works at Ridgefield's Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
His creations are crafted for everyday living yet cherished as unique art. Castle is a pioneer in the art furniture movement through sculpting unique furniture and incorporating non-traditional techniques.
An exhibit of Wendell Castle’s works at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield is tied to the release of Wendell Castle: Wandering Forms—Works from 1959-1979, co-published by the Aldrich. The October 19 opening kicks off a Makers Market weekend with 40-plus American exhibitors offering ceramics, jewelry, glassware, textiles, furniture and more.
You’ve been called a pioneer in the art furniture movement. Can you explain what you consider your role to have been in the early years of this movement? I was probably the first one to bring a sculptor’s vocabulary into making furniture and to incorporate non-traditional techniques. In the early 1960s, when I started, there was really no one else doing that.
Can you discuss the importance of, or what is special about, some of the major works in the Aldrich exhibition? The floor lamp, Benny, is a significant piece. It was part of a group of floor lamps, but it’s my favorite of the group because of the two very interesting shades of green used in the piece. They are perhaps fighting each other, or are sympathetic—I’m not sure—but in the end they complement each other. In a way, Benny is the antithesis of a floor lamp because it comes up from the floor and returns to the floor—it is, in a way, hooked to the floor. It also feels very contemporary to me. I think people would be surprised to find out this lamp was designed in the 1960s.
What was the first piece you ever created? One of the first significant pieces I ever created was a piece I made in school and referred to as a “high chair for adults,” also known as the Scribe’s Stool. My studio art teachers had discouraged me from making furniture, not finding it a worthwhile pursuit. So I created this piece, passed it off as sculpture, and got away with it!
Do you think that bespoke creations such as yours are meant for living (as furniture) or displaying (as art)? My pieces are both furniture and art. Sometimes they are in use, and when they are not, they maintain a sculptural presence. What’s interesting to me about the relationship between fine art and furniture as art is that they are very different, but end up being treated in the same way. Most of the collectors who buy my pieces are fine-art collectors who realize there’s this interesting new category to collect, that includes work like mine. This is a new development, I think; it wasn’t this way 40 years ago.
What’s the most challenging part of creating? It’s all challenging, but I think the most challenging part is working out the design. I design every piece first with a pencil on paper, and sometimes also in model form. This is where I struggle. But once I make a design, I stick to it. I rarely change a design.
What was it that originally drew you to working in wood and then later in plastic? In college I didn’t concentrate on wood. I tried wood carving, stone carving, bronze—many different materials. I worked a lot with plaster casting in my first studio in New York. Then I took a job in Rochester (at the School for American Craftsmen, Rochester Institute of Technology) and there was a wonderful wood shop and materials available to me, so I began working in wood.
What’s the most exciting technological advancement in your art form since you began as an artist? Digitizing and robotic carving, absolutely. It’s amazing, just phenomenal, and opens up a lot of possibilities. Right now, I am making small pieces using these technologies, but we’re working toward a quantum jump.
How important is mentoring? Mentoring is very important and is something I’ve done consistently since 1962 through teaching, advising and taking on apprentices.
Who are some of your artistic influences? Some early and enduring influences are Wharton Esherick, Joan Miró, Jean Arp and Constantin Brancusi.
What is your personal credo? If you hit the bull’s-eye every time, the target is too near.