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James Castle


Most visitors have never heard of him, which seems weird, because it's a big exhibition, so he must be important. The pictures on the wall are neatly framed, but when you look closely, you can see the small holes in the paper where they were hung on the wall with a nail. There are landscapes and interiors, all drawn in a meticulous hand in what looks like black ink; there are fragments of old advertisements and delicately colored figures, as well as intricate sculptures of people, objects, animals, and furniture made from colored cardboard and string. Who is this guy?

He lived in a small community in Idaho all his life. His family appreciated his art and left him alone to work every day. He was proud of what he did, and when he began to be noticed by the art world, he seemed to enjoy the attention and respect, but we don't know exactly how or why he made the things he did. Born completely deaf in 1899, James Castle taught himself to draw using soot from a wood-burning stove mixed with spit. Although he never learned to speak, read, or write, he communicated through his drawings and sculptures, leaving a remarkably poetic and personal body of work that we are just now beginning to appreciate. To learn more, check out the catalog James Castle, a Retrospective, and the DVD James Castle: Portrait of an Artist. Better yet, visit the exhibition before it closes on January 3rd.

James Castle. Stork, n.d. Boise Art Museum, Idaho, purchased with grant funds from the Idaho Commission on the Arts, 1977.4 .1.