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Description: James Castle: A Retrospective
PublisherPhiladelphia Museum of Art
Brave is the scholar who dares to take on the vast, endlessly fascinating, highly elusive art of James Castle. The quantity of his output is astonishing, as he devoted himself virtually full-time to his art for nearly seven decades. The confounding sophistication and compellingly mysterious nature of his images, coupled with what can be pieced together of his life story, only add to the impenetrability. Against these staggering odds, Ann Percy, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Curator of Drawings, whose range of expertise extends seemingly effortlessly from the Italian Baroque drawings of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione to the wide-ranging art on paper of contemporary master Francesco Clemente, immersed herself wholeheartedly, and with love and full comprehension of the attendant hazards, in the study of Castle’s art. Her marvelous journey into the artist’s world entailed extended excursions to his native Boise and the surrounding countryside, visits with his family, and examination of hundreds of his drawings, books, and constructions. The more involved in the project she became, the more Ann realized the need to present as full and varied a picture of James Castle as possible, which led to her inspired selection of writers for this book: Jacqueline Crist, whose indispensable knowledge of the artist’s life and art is deepest and broadest; Terry Winters, whose artist’s perspective affords unique insight into Castle’s mind at work; and Brendan Greaves, a young scholar who offers a penetrating and learned reading of Castle’s text pieces. Technical expertise provides an entirely new approach to the work: the Museum’s conservators of art on paper Nancy Ash and Scott Homolka have brought forward the results of hours of examination of Castle’s unusual materials and techniques, while conservation scientists Beth Price, Ken Sutherland, Daniel Kirby, and Maarten van Bommel present the first scientific analysis of their components.
In 1997 the Philadelphia Museum of Art established its firm commitment to collecting the work of self-taught artists. Thanks to its association with the Foundation for Self-Taught American Artists in Philadelphia, the Museum’s ambitions in this area have been significantly stimulated and strengthened, and we are deeply grateful for the Foundation’s sponsorship of Jeffrey Wolf’s film James Castle: Portrait of an Artist, included as a DVD with the print edition of the book. We join Ann Percy, as well, in thanking the impressive number of people who helped to bring this project into being. We particularly recognize the sensitive design of this book by Jo Ellen Ackerman of Bessas & Ackerman, working with the Museum’s talented and dedicated Department of Publishing.
Generous support for the exhibition came from several sources. First and foremost, we were fortunate to receive a major grant awarded by the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, a program of the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by the University of the Arts. As they do so often with important cultural projects, the National Endowment for the Arts (through its American Masterpieces: Visual Arts Touring program), the Henry Luce Foundation, and The Judith Rothschild Foundation each provided essential assistance, without which the exhibition could never have happened. The catalogue was generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications. We would also like to express our gratitude to the Ervika Foundation and to Marion Stroud Swingle and other generous individuals.
Without the kindness and enthusiasm of lenders to share their treasures with a broader public, the exhibition would not have been possible. We extend our warmest thanks to the remarkable array of public institutions, galleries, and private collectors that allowed us to bring together such a striking and representative selection from the immense trove of works by James Castle.
Innis Howe Shoemaker
The Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs