Wendell Castle (1932-2018) was one of the most honored and revered craftsmen in American history. He received innumerable awards, highlighted by the American Craft Council Gold Medal in 1997 and a lifetime achievement award for Excellence in Design from the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2007. Castle’s work is greatly admired and is in the permanent collection of over 40 museums world-wide, including the Art Institute (Chicago), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Museum of Modern Art (New York) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (London).
Born and raised in Kansas, Castle was a poor student and full of self-doubt because of being dyslexic, but his sheer creative determination allowed him to overcome this handicap. A turning point came in 1961 while Castle was attending the University of Kansas for his Master of Fine Arts degree, specializing in sculpture. Needing a wooden toolbox, he decided to make, rather than purchase, one. This was the beginning of an almost 60-year career of creating objects in wood that were both practical and sculptural, utilitarian in addition to being true works of art.
Castle moved to Rochester, New York in 1962 where he was appointed an instructor and later an Artist in Residence at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It was there that he refined the innovative process of woodworking that he called “stack lamination.” Castle had first learned of the technique as a young boy when he read an article in Popular Mechanics that described how to create a wooden duck decoy using a similar method. However, he did not attempt the process for nearly 30 years. By creating and assembling pre-sawn wood blocks, rather than carving objects from large single pieces of wood, Castle was free to design and produce practically any biomorphic form he could imagine.
The outstanding dining table offered here, with its eight matching armchairs, aptly demonstrate how Castle perfected the “stack lamination” technique over time. Made of cherry, the table was designed with a carved wooden hinged pivot in order to spread open and allow the insertion of two fan-shaped leaves. The superbly carved double pedestal displays the highly organic sculptural quality that epitomize his finest works. The pedestals, designed to emulate each other while maintaining their own distinctive forms, suggest positive and negative space depending on whether the table is closed or fully extended. Castle was entirely responsible for the design of this unique table and armchairs. He was assisted in the construction of the table by one of his most trusted craftsmen, Don Sottile, who worked with Castle for 23 years and served most of that time as studio director.
Wendell Castle was constantly challenging the limits of the materials he was working with, as well as his imagination. He based his life and career on fourteen “Rules of Thumb.” One was “if you hit the bull’s-eye every time, the target is too near.” Another was “celebrate uncertainty” and a third was “distrust what comes easily.” It was this attitude that drove him to seek excellence throughout his life and in his creations. The masterful dining table and chairs clearly embody Castle’s design ethos.
The dining table and chairs offered here will be included in the next edition of the Wendell Castle catalogue raisonné.
Christie’s would like to thank Don Sottile, Emily Eerdmans, and Wendell Castle Studio for their assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.