Wendell Castle, the father of the art furniture movement, died Saturday at age 85. I’m privileged to have spent a few days with him while shooting a video, and while our time together was personal, the time wasn’t long enough to call him a friend. Thoughtful, soft-spoken and passionate are three words that come to my mind. I’m willing to admit that I’m not in love with all his furniture – though many pieces are amazing. I will let you and posterity provide the praise his work deserves.
I’d rather say a few words about the man I met. As a child he was dyslexic and a poor student who said he was good at two things: drawing and daydreaming – neither of which were valued in his small town in Kansas. He persevered against expectations to put those passions to work. As with anything worthwhile, it took some time and there were what he considered to be missteps along the way, but Wendell was very comfortable with reinventing himself. In fact, he felt that was an important part of growing as a person and an artist. His style changed many times throughout his career primarily because he got tired of doing “that thing” and pushed himself to do something new. That’s a skill I think we can all benefit from.
His ability to challenge himself has earned him awards and accolades. Much of his work resides in well-known museums throughout the world, showing bold, organic designs that were whimsical and radical. Part of his willingness to evolve included working in different mediums, moving from wood to stone and plastic resin. In every medium, he pushed the boundaries and excelled.
In his early 80’s when we met, Wendell was solidly in the middle of working with a robotic CNC machine to shape his furniture – once again pushing himself toward something new. But his days still started with him, pencil in hand, sketching at his drawing board, refining an existing concept or developing something new. He was always creating, and that’s the way I’ll remember him. He will be missed, but his creativity will be with us always.