JAMES CASTLE (1899-1977)


James Castle was born profoundly deaf and it is not known to what extent he could read, write, or use sign language. He began drawing and making things with found materials at a very young age. Throughout Castle’s lifetime, nearly everything that crossed his path inspired or influenced him. A daily ritual included checking all the trash containers in the home and throughout the immediate neighborhood and his discoveries became the materials from which he made his art, as well as fodder for his voracious visual memory. Castle’s artworks were created almost exclusively with found materials such as papers salvaged from common packaging and mail, in addition to food containers of all types. Castle mixed ink using soot from the woodstove and saliva and applied it with tools of his own making, including sharpened sticks, and other found objects. His drawings sensitively depict interiors, buildings, animals, landscapes and people based on his family’s rural Garden Valley homestead as well as the architecture and landscapes of the places he lived and visited. He also created and bound books containing drawings, patterns, and calendars.

In the 1950s, Castle’s nephew, Bob Beach, came home on a break from the Museum Art School in Portland, Oregon. Beach suggested to family members that Castle’s drawings, handmade books and constructions could be called “art.” Beach was allowed to take some of his uncle’s drawings back to the Portland art school to show his professors; this introduction launched the beginning of Castle’s recognition as an artist in regional museums and art galleries. 1

1 © James Castle Collection and Archive – Boise, Idaho