- Wendell Castle
- Big M
- signed Castle and dated 71
- gel-coated fibreglass, automobile paint, wire and steel tubing
Charles E. Burchfield Center, Buffalo, New York (acquired from the above)
Collection of Wendell Castle & Nancy Jurs, New York (acquired from the above)
Chicago, Grant Park, Public Art 2016, 2016–17
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (ed.), National Community Arts Program, 1972
Ron Netsky, 'Wendell Castle: Crossing the Line that Separated Craftwork from Artwork', in Upstate New York Sunday Magazine, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, 6th July 1986
Emily Evans Eerdmans, Wendell Castle: A Catalogue Raisonné 1958-2012, New York, 2015, no. II.15, illustrated p. 66
Castle is primarily known for designing pieces of furniture that break down the barriers that have traditionally separated the worlds of design and fine art. It was whilst studying sculpture at the University of Kansas in the late 1950s that he made his first piece of furniture – a coffee table to furnish his student flat. His art teacher at the time told him he was wasting his time with furniture but Castle, then only in his twenties, disagreed: ‘I thought why can’t furniture be as important as sculpture? Why can’t it be an art form?’
This incorporation of traditional sculptural influences into pieces of furniture would define the rest of his career; he became a sculptor working in the medium of furniture. Balancing often very modern technical processes with an emphasis on handcrafting that is the inheritance of his earliest pieces, Castle has developed a distinctive aesthetic that beautifully assimilates the functionality of furniture with sculptural forms. As he explained: 'I think that one of the things that is consistent is that when I stopped making sculpture and decided I would concentrate fully on furniture, it was because I felt it could be the same as sculpture. It had all those qualities. And that made it ok for me to do. Nowadays, sculpture can be almost anything, but I still like to think of it as having volumes and voids and all those things that are probably Brancusi-based thinking' (quoted in ibid., pp. 40-41).
This conflation of the traditional boundaries between sculpture and furniture has extended into his works for public spaces and is something he continues to the present day. Some forty years after making Big M, Castle installed Unicorn Family in the sculpture park of the University of Rochester. This piece – fundamentally a set of chairs with a table and a large standing lamp – encourages the public to interact with it in much the same way as Big M. Other works have been installed by the New York City Department of Transport and the Museums of Art and Design, New York. Much like Big M, they encapsulate Castle’s belief that form and function can be combined in works of real aesthetic beauty.