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James Castle | Video in American Sign Language

Educator Lauren Ridloff discusses works by James Castle in the exhibition Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960.

James Castle, the artist, was born in rural Idaho. He made art everyday for almost 70 years, using materials he found around his home. His art was his form of communication. Castle was born Deaf. He didn’t read, write, speak or sign. You’ll notice that this area is darker, the lights are dim. That is because Castle’s work is very fragile. So for conservation purposes, this area is darker.

Castle was mostly self-taught. He collected objects around his home to make art. The tools he used were whittled bits of sticks and twigs. He would dip them in soot and draw. See here.

When he wanted to add color, he would take pieces of cotton or crepe paper and tie it around his tool. Then he would take colored paper and put it in water, creating a dye. He didn’t just use paper but a variety of materials. Whatever he could find. Flattened matchstick boxes. Ice cream lids, old pieces of mail, pages from books and his niece’s homework.

Castle finally received recognition but it was after he passed away.

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