James Castle

Eight works on paper by self-taught artist James Castle recently were donated to the Weatherspoon by the artist’s archive. Museum visitors may recall seeing Castle’s soot drawings in the exhibition, Inside the Outside: Artists from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation in 2016. Although diverse in theme—from landscape and figures to cultural products and advertising—each drawing illustrates the artist’s interest in line, shape, and tonal smudges.

Castle lived in isolation his entire life due to location and condition. Deaf and mute, he resided on remote family ranches in Idaho, far away from any art communities. Castle’s parents were rural postmasters whose home also served as a general store. The family’s businesses inspired the artist, who used paper from mail catalogues and advertisements for groceries as art materials. Castle also repurposed the packaging, twine, heavy cloth, and leather that were a part of the family businesses as inspiration and artistic materials. In addition, he created his own inks and graphite from soot collected from the wood-burning stove and other crushed materials mixed with his saliva. The Weatherspoon is pleased to add these striking drawings to its renowned collection of works on paper.

James Castle, Untitled (Distant Farmscape), not dated. Soot on butcher’s paper, 6 1/4 x 8 1/2 in. Weatherspoon Art Museum. Gift of James Castle Collection and Archive LP in honor of William Louis-Dreyfus and Nancy Doll, 2020.8.1. © James Castle Collection and Archive LP