Balancing Act

Balancing Act

Wendell Castle, Arm in Arm

Wendell Castle, Arm in Arm, 2015, bronze, 5.6 x 5.6 x 7.9 ft.

Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

As a graduate student at the University of Kansas in the early 1960s, Wendell Castle found himself in the sculpture studio one day, building a cabinet for his art supplies. An instructor passed by and scoffed, advising him to focus on sculpture rather than waste his time making furniture.

“What was wrong with furniture?” Castle remembered thinking, as he recalled the incident years later. Why couldn’t furniture be just as expressive and have every bit as much power and strength as sculpture?

His expansive, then-radical view inspired a singular career, earning him renown as the father of American art furniture. Over five decades, he continued to reimagine what furniture could be, experimenting not only with design, but also with materials and techniques, from stack-laminated wood and molded plastic to 3D modeling and robotic carving. He was active in his studio near Rochester, New York, until his death in January at the age of 85.

Castle’s work embodies a fine balance of form and function, art and craft, hand and machine. Balance interested him, he said, particularly when taken to an extreme, as with the cantilevered seating of Arm in Arm, one of his biomorphic pieces shown at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris in 2017. “I actually think of my work as if I had planted a seed, and this organic thing grew up,” he said, reflecting on the exhibition. The same can be said of his vibrant and enduring artistic legacy.