Wendell Castle, a Kansas boy who went on to famously blur sculpture with functionality in creating art pieces that sit in museums all over the world, ran out of time before he ran out of ideas.
Castle, 85, known as the “father of the art furniture movement,” died Saturday at his home in Scottsville, a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. Friends and family said he was thinking of new designs right up to the end. He suffered from leukemia and had returned home from a hospital on Friday.
His works belong to permanent collections in more than 50 museums and galleries around the world, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Belger Arts Center. A one-of-a-kind bronze bench of his sits in Brook Beatty Park, 8646 Lee Blvd., in Leawood. The city paid $50,000 for the piece.
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In 2015, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York hosted an exhibit called “Wendell Castle Remastered.” Pieces included a table that resembled a jungle plant and a bench that brought to mind a squid resting on tentacles.
“Even though my work has an element that is a seat or a desk, it also has other elements that have nothing to do with any function,” he was quoted in the exhibit catalog. “But it’s a set. They go together.”
The curator of the show said of Castle: “He loves the idea of planting a furniture seed that sprouts into a chair or lamp or table.”
Castle was born in Emporia. In 1962, after seeing one of his early pieces, the dean of fine and applied arts at Rochester Institute of Technology invited Castle to be a professor of furniture design. He taught and remained in the area the rest of his life.
“Wendell gifted us with his enthusiasm, his eagerness to collaborate and share and his generosity to deliver his intentions with tangible and always elegant results,” Josh Owen, a chairman at RIT’s School of Design, told the university’s newspaper.
“We will never forget the joie de vivre (joy of living) that Wendell shared with us.”
Many tributes to Castle were posted on Twitter.
“We’re saddened by the passing of a great creative force in the Rochester community. Sculptor @WendellCastle’s contributions to design opened eyes to the artistic magnitudes of woodwork, formwork, and furniture. Our hearts go out to his friends, family, and studio,” posted Truth Collective, a business in Rochester.
In 1996, Castle put his vision for creativity into a book called “My 10 Adopted Rules of Thumb.”
Among the list: “If it’s offbeat or surprising, it’s probably useful” and “If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.”
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182