Deaf artist James Castle used art to communicate

Over 200 works on display at the Art Insitute of Chicago
December 3, 2009 (CHICAGO) More than 200 pieces of his work are currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. James Castle, an Idaho native, was born deaf. He was also believed to have cognitive disabilities.

Unable to lip-read, fingerspell and sign, Castle used his artist's ability to communication.

"James Castle's art is the work of a man who seemingly is entirely self-taught, who focused on his environment-- both his macroscopic environment and his microscopic environment," said Mark Pascale, the curator in the prints and drawing department.

"He also made constructions of farm animals and people, or personages," said Pascale, "often without facial features, sometimes with. He also made hundreds of books, and the books cover a broad cross-section of subject matter.

"I think that when you go through the exhibition you see, in particularly in his word pieces, it was clear that he understand words and certainly the importance of them."

Born in 1899, Castle started drawing in his late teens.

"A lot of his early work was apparently lost, because his family moved," said Pascale.

Castle used homemade materials to create his remarkable art. For pens he sharpened twigs. For ink used his saliva.

Paper was scavenged from found materials.

To blind his books the artist found thread, twigs, string or yarn.

Two-hundred-twenty-five of Castle's works are on display at the Art Institute until January 3.

"After an exhibition in the early 60s, when his work started selling in earnest, for not substantial amounts, but enough that his family was able to save, and they bought him a house, which was a manufactured home," Pascale said.

"I think the books in general are my favorite things, because he figured out how to make books totally on his own, and even though they are hard-scrabble -- everything is made with found materials -- the blinding might be a used shoelace that he sewed through punctures that he made in the spine, but they are absolutely adequate, and they work, and you can look through them just like a regular book."

James Castle: A Retrospective will be at the Art Institute of Chicago until January 3. There is also a book with a DVD documentary on Castle's life available at their bookstore.

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