Curator's Statement

James Charles Castle

Born September 24, 1899 in the isolated Idaho community of Garden Valley, Castle was presumed to be deaf throughout his life. Many also believed the artist mute, mentally challenged and/or illiterate. Today, however, contemporary medical experts diagnose the artist autistic, likely able to hear, but unable to process sounds. Mute Castle was not. Although apparently unable to verbalize (speak words), he was able to vocalize (make sounds). Close analysis of his work suggests that, far from being retarded, Castle was highly intelligent, and that the artist was not illiterate, but had limited reading and writing abilities.

Sent to the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind in 1911, Castle was expelled his first year, declared “uneducable.” Paradoxically, his parents were apparently directed by deaf educators to keep art supplies from their son and to encourage him to learn to speak, sign, fingerspell or read lips — all of which the educators had been unable to teach him. We do know the family was always in need of help, and they attempted to make a ranch hand out of their son. Castle would have none of it. Instead, he busied himself, making his own art supplies. For pens, he fashioned sharpened sticks and twigs. Ink was made from stove soot and saliva. Any found paper provided canvas or book pages. The young man taught himself lettering, perspective, shading, composition, the effects of framing of images, all the while refusing to do farm chores and other menial duties.

For over sixty years, Castle devoted himself to making art. Although briefly “discovered” in the 1960's, the Self-Taught artist was largely unrecognized during his lifetime. He died in obscurity, October 24, 1977 in Boise, Idaho.

Leaving a legacy of over 20,000 artworks, Castle is now being recognized. A dedication exhibition at the Idaho Center for the Book (an affiliate of the United States Library of Congress Center for the Book) in Boise in 1994 featured the first display of Castle books. Since that exhibition, Castle has gone on to gather regional, national and international attention. His work is represented in major collections, and major exhibitions of his work have been held in the United States, Canada and England. This Idaho Center for the Book exhibition features Castle's earliest and rarest works (the so-called “Icehouse Books”) and representative specimens of later Castle book genres.

Tom Trusky, Curator

Last Updated 8/23/04