Wendell Castle, "the father of the art furniture movement," dies at age 85

Wendell Castle, widely recognized as the "father of the art furniture movement" and an Artist in Residence at RIT, died in his Scottsville home on Saturday at the age of 85, according to a press release from RIT. (Photo: Rochester Institute of Technology)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHAM) - Wendell Castle, widely recognized as the "father of the art furniture movement" and an Artist in Residence at RIT, died in his Scottsville home on Saturday at the age of 85, according to a press release from RIT.

The designer and craftsman invented a new way of designing and constructing furniture, allowing unrestricted forms to be realized that would be impossible to create using traditional techniques. His award-winning pieces crossed over into the realm of sculpture that today belongs to the permanent collections of more than 50 world-class museums and galleries across the globe.

“Wendell Castle is known the world over for his contributions to the field of art and design,” said Josh Owen, professor and chair of RIT’s industrial design program in RIT’s School of Design.

Up until recently, Owen noted, Castle had regularly taught a graduate industrial design seminar, which enabled RIT students to interact with the artist in an intimate setting.

Castle also regularly opened up his Scottsville studio to give RIT students in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS) a peek behind the scenes into the inner workings of his unique practice.

A native of Emporia, Kansas, Castle’s connections with Rochester and RIT ran deeply. Harold Brennan, the director of what was then the School for American Craftsmen (SAC), recruited him in 1962 to join the RIT faculty to teach woodworking and furniture design. SAC served as the ground where Mr. Castle’s creative roots took hold. He maintained his own studio on Troup Street in downtown Rochester, within walking distance of RIT’s former city campus during the 1960s.

By 1965, Castle’s work and influence positioned him at the forefront of the growing Craft Furniture Movement sweeping the nation.

He garnered myriad honors throughout his career, including the Leadership Medal in 2015 from the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.; the Smithsonian’s Visionary Award in 2014; and the Eastman Medal from the University of Rochester in 2013.

Castle's work has been exhibited around the globe, including London, Paris, Seoul and New York City. In addition to national and international private and public collections, his work can be found in the permanent collections of more than 50 museums and cultural institutions worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Castle is survived by his wife and artist, Nancy Jurs; a brother, Wayne; two children, Alison and Bryon, and two grandchildren.

Arrangements are pending.

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