Book List of the Week

Breaking the Rules: Wendell Castle’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter June 25, 2013

Wendell Castle

Furniture designer and sculptor Wendell Castle: Wendell Castle Inc. (Le Roy, New York)

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Celebrated as the father of the American studio furniture movement, Wendell Castle has been designing sculptural tables and seating as well as lighting and other functional objects for more than 50 years. Examples of his signature work in stack-laminated wood and fiberglass have become part of the permanent collections of major U.S. museums. In this Q&A with Designers & Books, Castle talks about the recent book of his furniture designs, Wandering Forms: Work from 1959–1979, with a text by Alistair Gordon (2012, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, in association with Gregory R. Miller & Co.), that accompanied an exhibition held at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, from October 2012 to February 2013.

Designers & Books: The photo on the cover of the book Wandering Forms shows you in a field, chainsaw cocked over your shoulder, with wood pieces behind you that you look to have subdued and conquered. Perhaps a bit like an adventurous and victorious safari hunter. Is that an accurate metaphor? Is it something of a struggle to get the materials to conform to what you want them to be?

Wendell Castle: The metaphor is pretty accurate, though I don't really feel it's a struggle.

Cover of Wendell Castle, Wandering Forms: Works from 1959–1979, 2012 (The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, in association with Gregory R. Miller & Co.)

D&B: During the period covered by Wandering Forms you worked in wood and also in “Technicolor gel-coated fiberglass.” In the introduction to the book Alistair Gordon says that for you your design work is all about “how it made you feel.” Do you find that very different materials—like wood and fiberglass—end up producing very different feelings for you?

WC: Yes, but the works also had a lot in common. The forms for fiberglass were as organic as those in wood, but gave an entirely different feel due to the colors and material.

D&B: You’re an admirer of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. One of the ideas that he popularized is that it takes 10,000 hours of hard practice to achieve greatness. How would you say that idea squares with your experience?

WC: He is absolutely correct, and I did my 10,000 before I was even on the right track.

D&B: Do you think of yourself as having a creative process that can be articulated? Have you found anything in the books on your list, or in others, that resonated with you in relation to how your design ideas come to you?

WC: To some extent, yes. I have found a lot that has helped me in being able to more clearly articulate these ideas. Vision in Motion was the required textbook for a class I was taking in design. Reading it had a life-changing impact on me.

Oak chair designed by Wendell Castle, 1968
Wendell Castle in his Scottsville, New York, studio, 1970s
Two-headed Table, 1969, gel-coated fiberglass-reinforced plastic, designed by Wendell Castle

D&B: You’ve also been interested in architecture. The endpapers in Wandering Forms show a helicopter flying with some sort of structure hanging below. What’s the story there?

WC: In 1970 I had been working on modular housing that might be dropped onto the site by helicopter. However, this was not the final design.

Endpaper from Wandering Forms. Original drawing by Wendell Castle dated 1970. Sketch of proposed helicopter delivery of a prefabricated housing concept. This specific design was never built.

D&B: You have have a large collection of books—over 3,000 between your studio and home libraries, according to your book list introduction. What are your bookshelves like?

WC: My bookshelves are not artworks and truly serve a purely functional purpose. At my studio the shelves cover two entire walls, and hold everything from my design, architecture, and technical books. At home I keep my art books in the hall, and have two bedrooms that contain entire walls of books.

Wendell Castle (left) with Richard Scott Newman, his first full-time assistant, c. 1967. Pieces shown include Settee, oak, 1967; Lamp, hand-carved stack-laminated walnut with glass globe, 1967; Butterfly Seat, oak, 1967; and Bookcase, oak, 1967.

D&B: Do you have a favorite bookcase that you’ve designed?

WC: I haven't done much with bookcase design. One in oak from 1967 [see above] is a good one, though.


All images taken from Wandering Forms: Work from 1959–1979, courtesy of the publisher.

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