Wendell Castle, Sculptor That Merged Furniture & Art, Dies at 85

Wendell Castle, a visionary woodworker, furniture-maker and sculptor has died at the age of 85. Mr. Castle died late Saturday afternoon at his estate in upstate New York, according to an announcement by Rochester Institute of Technology, where he was an artist in residence. Mr. Castle suffered from leukemia and had been in and out of the hospital over the last two months.

In more than a half-century of work, Mr. Castle melded furniture with art, creating provocative tables, chairs, clocks and other objects that bemused, surprised and baffled those who saw them. He placed form above function, and frequently shifted styles and genres.

Wendell Castle, Ghost Clock, 1985, bleached Honduras mahogany, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1985

Wendell Castle, Ghost Clock, 1985, bleached Honduras mahogany, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

His best known work at the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery – which looks like a white sheet was draped over a grandfather clock – is a masterpiece of illusion. The museum’s artwork description includes the following text: At first glance, Ghost Clock appears to be a grandfather clock hidden by a large white sheet tied with a rope. A close look, however, reveals a masterful deception: this entire sculpture was hand-carved from a single block of laminated mahogany. With meticulous detail, Castle re-created in wood the contours of soft, supple cloth, then completed the illusion by bleaching the “drapery” white and staining the base of the “clock” a walnut brown. This work is the last in a series of thirteen clocks the artist created in the 1980s; unlike the others, it lacks an inner mechanism. Its haunting stillness and silence suggest eternity—the absence of time.

Mr. Castle’s work — in media like wood, but also plastic, concrete, bronze — is exhibited in galleries and displayed in museums worldwide.

editor’s note: 

Wendell Castle’s 10 Adopted Rules of Thumb:

1. If you are in love with an idea, you are no judge of its beauty or value.
2. It is difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.
3. After learning the tricks of the trade, don’t think you know the trade.
4. We see and apprehend what we already know.
5. The dog that stays on the porch will find no bones.
6. Never state a problem to yourself in the terms it was brought to you.
7. If it’s offbeat or surprising then it’s probably useful.
8. If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.
9. Don’t get too serious.
10. If you hit the bullseye everytime, then the target is probably too near.

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