Yet, today Castle's artwork hangs in major museums throughout the world. The Philadelphia Museum of Art opened "James Castle: A Retrospective" in 2008. The 2013 Venice Biennale included eleven works by Castle in the feature exhibition "The Encyclopedic Palace." And his reputation continues to grow.
Caldecott Medal winner Allen Say, author of the acclaimed memoir Drawing from Memory, takes readers through an imagined look at Castle's childhood, allows them to experience his emergence as an artist despite the overwhelming difficulties he faced, and ultimately reveals the triumphs that he would go on to achieve.
- ISBN-13: 9780545927611
- ISBN-10: 0545927617
- Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
- Publish Date: October 2017
- Page Count: 64
- Reading Level: Ages 8-12
- Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.19 pounds
A life lived through art
In what he describes as “an imagined biography,” Allen Say humanizes the troubled and determined American artist James Castle.
Born premature in 1899 in Idaho, Castle was deaf, autistic and probably dyslexic. Undiagnosed for years, he and a sibling were eventually sent to a school for the deaf and blind, to which Castle never acclimated. Sent back home, where he lived in an empty shed or even, at times, a chicken house, Castle was isolated and spent his life creating drawings and handmade books with found materials and soot, using spit as a fixative. He also made cutout dolls, the only friends he had. “He drew from memory and in secrecy,” Say writes. His work is now revered as that of an original artist, one whose art was his vocabulary.
Say tells this fictionalized biography from the point of view of Castle’s nephew, using much creative license. He also varies his style and artistic mediums throughout the book, often drawing with his nondominant hand when recreating Castle’s “unschooled” works. And there’s nary a reproduction to be found; Say faithfully reimagines many of Castle’s pieces using the same materials Castle did—sharp sticks, soot, spit and shoe polish.
This is a haunting story, filled with the stark, striking images of Castle’s memory: faceless teachers with whom he was unable to communicate; children who taunted him; the view from the open door of the attic, where he was often forced to stay as a child; and much more. There was an orderliness to Castle’s art, and Say’s beguiling compositions, which include small vignettes, reflect this. This is an utterly fascinating work.