written by:
February 6, 2013
Published to coincide with designer, artist, and visionary Wendell Castle's 80th birthday at the end of 2012, writer Alastair Gordon's biographical monograph of Castle's work is a juicy read, full of hyperbolic forms and insight into the studio of one idiosyncratic thinker. Gordon tells us that "I knew Wendell's work, vaguely, for quite a long time, but became increasingly interested in his biomorphic carved pieces when I was researching another book on psychedelic environments. I saw images of his amazing "Environment for Contemplation" (1969), a womb-like chamber carved from cherry that was part furniture, part sculpture, part architecture, and part hallucination." More on Alastair's journey to discover the man behind the myth; plus, a slideshow of notable Wendell Castle works.
Castle's Chest of Drawers by Wendell Castle
Here, Castle's Chest of Drawers from 1966, so titled because of its resemblance to the human chest cavity. "I got to meet Castle a few years ago," explains Gordon, "and we talked about work from that period--the pieces that his original dealer Lee Nordness referred to as 'wandering forms.' Evan Snyderman of R20th Gallery in New York was representing his vintage work and through him I was able to look through hundreds of archival photos and publications about Wendell, but it was all quite scattered and ephemeral. So we started talking about a book."
1 / 10
Wendell Castle in his Scottsville studio
Castle in his Scottsville studio in the 1970s. Alastair Gordon reports, "Last year, I spent a rewarding few days at Wendell's studio outside of Rochester, New York, and that became the core narrative for the book--rediscovering all of this one-of-a-kind undulating, restless work that he'd carved meticulously by hand as well as the illuminating sketches that he'd kept in storage."
2 / 10
Wendell Caste Wall Sculpture
An early piece created when he was a masters student at the University of Kansas, and one of Castle's first commissions, is more wall sculpture than furniture.
3 / 10
Rosewood music rack by Wendell Castle
Seen here, a sinuous rosewood music rack from 1980 along with Castle's original sketches."Castle should be better known, but in fact he is pretty well known among certain design circles, museums, and collectors," says Gordon. "I think he might be much more famous if he'd died a tragically young death in some violent American fashion and limited his output."
4 / 10
Laminated walnut coffee table by Wendell Castle
Shown here is a stack laminated walnut coffee table from 1966. Castle, who is still working in 80th year, is, as Gordon describes, "an intuitive and slightly manic hands-on maker who would be completely lost if he sat around for too long thinking things out." As Castle himself said about hitting the milestone, “It’s weird. I have no idea what 80 feels like but I certainly do not feel old. I have all my hair and I still play a very good game of tennis three times a week, year-round, with guys 30 to 40 years younger than I am.”
5 / 10
Furniture Installation by Douglas Baker
Douglas Baker, a Rochester-based graphic designer, commissioned Castle to create one of his furniture-as-architecture installations for Baker's dining room. What Castle did was nothing short of miraculous: an acrobatic feat of woodworking that flipped the laminated white-oak dining table on its head and suspended it from the ceiling, complete with conical lighting fixture. Sadly, the set-up no longer exists as it did in 1966 (pictured here).
6 / 10
Molar Settee by Wendell Castle
So why is the timing right for a Castle renaissance? Gordon says, "There's a great deal of renewed interest in his work because the timing is right for rediscovering and embracing a homegrown American designer of his stature. Also consider the scale of his oeuvre." It progresses quite wildly from the wooden, organic forms of the 1960s into the similarly-amorphous but colorful plastic furniture of the 1970s. Here, Castle's influential Molar Settee from 1969. The Molar group was designed as a sculptural alternative to contract furniture and was soon snapped up for The Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.
7 / 10
Three-Legged Floor Lamp by Wendell Castle
Gordon points out that Castle's work from this era presaged the amorphous "blob" design of architects, designers, and artists of today who work with computer-generated forms. Above, the Three-Legged Floor Lamp from 1969, after a color restoration in 2004.
8 / 10
Fantasy Furniture exhibition Wendell Castle
Here, a shot of the "Fantasy Furniture" exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in early 1966. Though two of the four anniversary exhibitions lauding Castle's work have closed, you can view the craftsmanship of his so-called "wandering forms" at Connecticut's Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art through February 24.
9 / 10
Wendell Castle: Wandering Forms
Wendell Castle: Wandering Forms—Works from 1959 to 1979 by Alastair Gordon, published by Gregory R. Miller & Co., is available now.
10 / 10
Castle's Chest of Drawers by Wendell Castle
Here, Castle's Chest of Drawers from 1966, so titled because of its resemblance to the human chest cavity. "I got to meet Castle a few years ago," explains Gordon, "and we talked about work from that period--the pieces that his original dealer Lee Nordness referred to as 'wandering forms.' Evan Snyderman of R20th Gallery in New York was representing his vintage work and through him I was able to look through hundreds of archival photos and publications about Wendell, but it was all quite scattered and ephemeral. So we started talking about a book."

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016
The Greenhouses of Half Moon Bay
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 03, 2016
Deck of Australian addition to Edwardian home.
A 1,500-square-foot home in Melbourne welcomes a modern black and white kitchen, dining, and living area.
February 03, 2016
open plan concrete home in japan
Embracing the organic, imperfect material, these raw concrete surfaces are a step up from exposed brick.
February 03, 2016
Renovated DC Row House loft space with Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.
The classic designer's signature and comfortable forms continue to be popular in homes today.
February 03, 2016
Zinc-roofed cabin France.
An architect builds an energy-efficient home near one of France’s most popular pilgrimage sites.
February 03, 2016
1973 Palm Springs home
Made for casual design enthusiasts and Palm Springs connoisseurs alike, Unseen Midcentury Desert Modern offers a peek into 51 buildings—some not open to the public—in that Southern California mecca of modernism. Begun in 2008 by photographer Dan Chavkin, the book is set for release this February 9th and will be available on Amazon and at multiple venues of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, February 11 - 21. Here we preview some of its images.
February 03, 2016
Millennial concept home with an outdoor living area
A concept home aims to reflect the requests of the Millennial market.
February 03, 2016
The two twelve-by-sixteen-foot bedrooms, directly above a comparable pair on the first floor, feature a glass transom that follows the pitch of the roof. “The stair and railings were very simple,” Depardon observes. “We added a bit of design, with panels
Skylights needn't be simple overhead daylighting; sometimes they can truly define a room.
February 03, 2016
Modern small space Rhode Island cottage with landscaping and cedar cladding
Surrounded by nature, these cottages are tranquil retreats from the city.
February 03, 2016
The couple kept original touches, including the arch.
Historic archways belie these contemporary homes with physical reminders of each structure's storied past.
February 03, 2016
modern guesthouse in norway with angular facade and cutaway patio with spruce cladding and ikea chair
These houses make room for nature, not the other way around.
February 02, 2016
Modern kitchen with yellow sectioned walls and monochrome appliances
Whether it's a splash of color or bold strokes, this collection of interiors brightens up these homes.
February 02, 2016
Rust-washed concrete wall in Moscow apartment renovation.
This 590-square-foot apartment was stripped down to admit sunlight and dramatically reveal forgotten surfaces.
February 02, 2016
Nendo's collection of objects inspired by Star Wars
In a galaxy not so far away, Japanese studio Nendo has released a versatile collection of objects inspired by classic Star Wars characters.
February 02, 2016
Monti catered to his mother’s love of cooking by giving her ample storage areas along the 70-foot long walnut wall-slash-cabinet. The refrigerator, kitchen items and other goods easily disappear into the wall when not in use. The nonporous, stain-, scratc
Sometimes the earthy colors and vivid grain of a wood like walnut is all you need to make a space.
February 02, 2016
renovated modern home in Austin interior kitchen
From California to Connecticut, these midcentury interiors still shine through thanks to the careful attention of architects and residents alike.
February 02, 2016
Outdoor dining area at a Saigon home.
A city home honors the local culture with communal outdoor space and reclaimed materials.
February 02, 2016
Affordable Portland home upper floor wrapped in black corrugated steel
These homes revel in both nature and city life.
February 01, 2016
London bedroom with exposed beams.
These homes show their bones to great effect.
February 01, 2016
Bar in an Amsterdam loft.
Bend an elbow with us at these very local watering holes.
February 01, 2016