Wendell Castle: Twisted Mister

Wendell Castle seated upon Long Night

Wendell Castle seated on “Long Night, 2011.” Image courtesy of Friedman Benda and the artist; photo by Adrien Millot.

I bet anyone who has covered design for any length of time remembers the first moment he or she saw a piece of Wendell Castle’s limited edition furniture. My first sighting was a racy rocking chair at Design Miami/ in 2005. I’m leaving for New York City in the morning and I plan to visit the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) exhibition Wendell Castle Remastered, which will be on view through February 28th.

Wendell Castle Solo Exhibition at MAD

Wendell Castle's Long Night in Peruvian walnut

“Long Night, 2011” by Wendell Castle in stained Peruvian walnut, now on view at MAD. Photo by Jon Lam Photography.

This is the first museum exhibition to examine the digitally crafted works of Wendell Castle, who has finally received his due as a master furniture maker, designer, sculptor, and educator. Now in the sixth decade of a prolific career—one that began in 1958, the year that I was born—his artistic story parallels the timeline representing the emergence and growth of the American studio craft movement.

Wendell Castle's Walnut sculpture created in 1958-59

“Walnut Sculpture, 1958-59” by Wendell Castle in Walnut with brass pins, now on view at MAD. Photo by Adam Reich Photography.

This solo exhibition finds Castle taking inspiration from the first decade of his own artistic production to create a new body of work. Though he is revisiting his groundbreaking achievements of the 1960s, this time through an innovative lens. Back in the day, Castle innovated stack lamination—a technique during which thick slabs of wood are built up and then carved into dynamic shapes before going on to investigate materials as diverse as fiberglass and plastic.

Wendell Castle's Castle Chair, which he created in 1959

“Castle Chair, 1959” by Wendell Castle in gel-coated fiberglass-reinforced plastic, now on view at MAD. Photo by Matt Wittmeyer.

Wendell Castle’s Contributions to Design

But now, the new works have been handcrafted with the assistance of digital technologies like 3D scanning, 3D modeling, and computer-controlled milling. Along with these most recent pieces, the exhibition will include a selection of historically significant works chosen by MAD’s Marcia Docter Senior Curator Ronald T. Labaco.

Robotic machinery assists Wendell Castle create new designs

Wendell Castle’s process for the new pieces created for this exhibition includes robotic machinery. Image courtesy of Friedman Benda and the artist; photo by Matt Wittmeyer.

Glenn Adamson, MAD’s Nanette L. Laitman Director, says of the exhibition: “Wendell Castle has had a long history with our institution, which has shown his work for over fifty years. It is nothing short of astonishing that he is now making some of the best work of his long career, work that attests to the value of deep expertise and experience. It is an honor to be able to give a platform once again to this important American artist.”

The Scribe Stool by Wendell Castle

“Scribe’s Stool, 1961-62” by Wendell Castle in walnut and ebony, now on view at MAD. Photo courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Wendell Castle Remastered by Innovation

The newest works he’s created using groundbreaking technology have been installed as if they are in dialogue with the earlier pieces that inspired them. Also included will be the newly created bronze works Wandering Mountain (2014) and Temptation (2014), which will reside outside the Museum’s Columbus Circle location. The intent here is to support Castle’s longtime interest in how his work engages outdoor and public spaces. Given the throngs passing by the Museum’s location each day, there should be engagement aplenty!

Wendell Castle's "Like a Dream"

“Like a Dream, 2014” by Wendell Castle in stained ash, now on view at MAD. Photo by Matt Wittmeyer.

Prominent pieces in the interior galleries include Walnut Sculpture, 1958—1959; Scribe’s Stool, 1961—1962; Chair with Table, 1964—1965; Environment for Contemplation, 1969—1970; More or Less, 2014; Dining Table, 2015; High Hopes, 2015; and Remembering You, 2015. I look forward to seeing all of these iconic pieces in one place!.

Wendell Castle in his studio

Wendell Castle in his studio. Image courtesy of Friedman Benda and the artist; photo by Matt Wittmeyer.

Organically Shaped Chairs from DWR

I’ve always envied collectors who could afford artful furnishings like those produced by Castle; have often wondered how it would feel to walk into Friedman Benda gallery, which has a number of Castle’s Limited Edition pieces for sale, and plunk down a big wad of cash for one! The closest I can dream are organic designs by other iconic names who chose to put their pieces into mass production rather than staying in the limited edition world inhabited by artists/designers like Castle.

Though not cheap by any means they are more affordable from retailers like Design Within Reach, which sells a number of choices—among them are Charles and Ray Eames’s La Chaise and RAR molded plastic rocker, Arne Jacobsen’s Swan™ and Egg chairs, Eero Saarinen’s Womb™ chair and ottoman, Le Corbusier’s LC4 chaise longue, and Harry Bertoia’s Diamond lounge chair. I’ve had my eye on a Womb™ chair and ottoman for ages; maybe this is my year to indulge myself!

Text of Wendell Castle Remastered © design blogger Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon Henry is an author, poet and journalist based in New York City. Books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns. She also maintains The Diary of an Improvateur as a platform for her literary travel and design adventuring. Saxon will be leading a workshop at the Design Bloggers Conference in March titled “How to Make Your Writing Sing.”