Wendell Castle: The Art of Furniture

On the cusp of his 80s, Wendell Castle revels in the techniques that launched his career.

By Scott Gibson
Pages 20-27

It is a cool June morning, and a light northwest breeze is clearing out yesterday’s squalls over western New York State. By 9 a.m., Wendell Castle is in his studio, alone, working on a drawing of a chair. An ellipsoid leg takes shape as the pencil glides over the paper.

A first-time visitor to this spacious workroom would be hard-pressed not to stand at the door and gape. Worktables are crammed with urethane models of upcoming projects, tools, glue bottles, bits and pieces of projects. Near the center of the room, a 400-pound chunk of stack-laminated ash rests on a pair of sawhorses and awaits carving. Drawings are pinned to a corkboard on the wall. Against one wall is an immense shipbuilder’s band saw with a rotating head. Where do you look first? It’s as if Castle’s head had simply exploded, spilling ideas everywhere.

At the forefront of American furniture design for more than 40 years, Castle occupies a unique space bridging the gap between utility and fine art. On the day of my visit, five months before his 80th birthday, he is as deeply engaged in his work as he’s ever been, juggling commitments to multiple shows and galleries both in the United States and abroad. And he seems to be savoring all of it.

“I think there are three kinds of people,” he told a Furniture Society audience in 2008, “people who make things happen, people who watch things happen and people who wonder what happened. Let’s be the first kind.”

He certainly seems to have taken his own advice.

A Studio Running at Full-tilt
Castle’s studio is only one wing of a shingled building on a quiet residential street in Scottsville, N.Y. In no time, Castle, who is dressed in shorts and an orange polo shirt and looking ready for an all-day hike, is leading a tour of this 15,000-square-foot labyrinth of workspaces and offices.

He bought the building, a former grain mill, in 1968 and has added on over the years. For a number of years, Castle ran a woodworking school here. Now, it houses seven employees who are doing their best to stay on top of a busy production schedule. Works in progress are everywhere.

 

Web: View some of Wendell Castle’s work.
To Buy: To learn more about studio furniture, read “Studio Furniture of the Renwick Gallery: Smithsonian American Art Museum,” by Oscar P. Fitzgerald.

From the November 2012 issue #200
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