In Suspended Disbelief, a new exhibition from Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Wendell Castle – revered as the founding father of the American Arts and Crafts movement – seamlessly intertwines sculpture and design, forging a unique discipline that continues to challenge the boundaries of artistic creation.
At the heart of this exhibition lies an exploration of Castle’s transformative career, tracing his journey from the early years of experimentation to his pioneering later woodworks. The exhibition also highlights Castle’s explorations from 2005 to 2018, a period where he returned to bio-morphism, his signature style of the 1960s and 1970s. Pieces like Night on Earth (2008) exemplify this phase, incorporating steel, bronze, and nickel. This later stage marked Castle’s foray into digital methods, including 3D modeling and scanning, as well as laser cutting, showcasing his adaptability and continued innovation.
Key works within the exhibition include Keeping Promises (2012), an anthropomorphic work that invites the viewer to take a seat in its cave-like cocoon; Suspended Disbelief (2015) presents a gravity-defying structure, a dewy, marbled base supported by finger-like pillars; and Hope (2013), a textural structure that’s been meticulously crafted from stained ash into sensuous curves, reminiscent of tree trunks and lily pads.
Known as one of the first artists to blur the line between art and design, each piece demonstrates Castle’s distinctive and organic approach to sculpture, notably his ground breaking technique of carving into stacked wood, known as lamination. This innovative method begins with large wooden blocks meticulously glued and clamped together, only to be skilfully carved into functional sculptural pieces of collectible design. The resulting creations vary in composition, from bulbous to sinewy and serpentine, yet consistently maintain a delicate balance that is a hallmark of Castle’s artistic vision. His investigation into different shapes is not only a testament to his technical prowess but also imbues his pieces with a playful and imaginative quality, therein challenging traditional furniture-making norms and establishing Castle as a visionary in the field.
Castle’s taste for innovation emerged during his study of sculpture and industrial design at the University of Kansas in the late-1950s. Utilising walnut sourced from a nearby factory, he laid the groundwork for his organic approach to design, inspired by contemporaries like Finn Juhl and Carlo Mollino. Castle’s artistic journey, from the gravity-defying structures of the 1960s to the later exploration of classical forms and experimentation with trompe l’oeil, reflects a consistent commitment to pushing artistic boundaries. The exhibition presents a unique opportunity to witness the evolution of Castle’s work, showcasing his mastery of materials from wood to fibreglass, and culminating his use of digital methods in his later years.
Born in Kansas in 1932, Wendell Castle received two degrees from the University of Kansas, one in industrial design in 1958 and the other in sculpture in 1961. He moved to Rochester, New York to teach at the School for American Crafts and established a permanent studio in the area that is still in operation today. He has continually reinvented himself for nearly six decades.
Often credited as the founding father of the American crafts movement, Castle has redefined sculpture and design by seamlessly merging the two into one discipline. He creates unique pieces that blur the distinction between design and sculpture. Castle’s organic and whimsical approach to sculpture incorporates his own invented technique of carving into stacked laminated wood known as lamination. His furniture designs for residential clients, public spaces, and a number of churches represent a unique exploration of the qualities and possibilities of wood and fiberglass.
His work can be found in the permanent collections of more than forty museums and cultural institutions, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the White House in Washington, D.C. Moreover, he has been the recipient of many honors and awards, including four National Endowment for the Arts grants and the Modernism Lifetime Achievement Award from the Brooklyn Museum in 2007.