Artist Spotlight: Wendell Castle

May 8, 2019

Form Over Function

Cited as the father of the American Studio Furniture Movement, Wendell Castle (1932–2018) produced a prolific body of work over the course of his six decade-long career. Castle was one of the first, and most successful, artists to seamlessly blend the aesthetic sensibilities of sculpture with the accessibility of furniture. Through his signature organic forms, the artist “invented his own visual language,” that challenged the predominant modernist insistence that form follow function.  With the combined knowledge of his degrees in both industrial design and sculpture, Castle distinguished himself from other furniture artisans of the 1960s by pioneering a stack-lamination process. When pieces of wood were glued together, a more versatile, sculptural canvas emerged, allowing Castle’s designs to blossom upwards from well-established support points.

Wendell Castle, Sleepy Time Gal bed, 1998
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

In the 1980s, the postmodern trends that animated the New Wave and Memphis styles encouraged Castle to shy away from stack-lamination and to begin focusing on traditional joinery methods. This led to a brief interlude in which Castle executed “fine-furniture” in the tradition of Art Deco craftsmen. By the end of the decade, however, the artist abandoned this approach and returned to his sculptural style with gusto.

Wendell Castle, Abilene rocking chair, 2008
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

Sleepy Time Gal bed (executed 1998) illustrates many of the essential markers of Castle’s work of the 1990s, a period which saw the artist’s increased blurring of medium boundaries. Castle’s use of varying woods presents a multi-color palette. This tonal variation emphasizes the bed frame’s whimsical decorative elements, which include the silhouette of a woman outlining its headboard and the etched lyrics of Richard Whiting’s 1925 song, “Sleepy Time Gal,” along its posts. As is a feature in a number of works from the decade, the bed frame also includes small compartments and drawers that offer very little space for any meaningful storage. It has been suggested that these spaces were introduced simply “to parody the notion of function.” Thus, this piece offers a critical example of Castle’s dynamic role in shaping the lexicon of art furniture.

Sewell, Darrel, et al. “Contemporary American Crafts.” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 87, no. 371/372, 1991.
“Wendell Castle: The Art of Furniture.” Popular Woodworking Magazine, 21 June 2018,
“Wendell Castle: Timeless.” Smithsonian American Art Museum, 23 Jan. 2019,


Lot 195
Wendell Castle
Sleepy Time Gal bed
Studio, executed 1998
Mahogany, jelutong, and bronze
Signed, titled, and dated
91″ x 109.25″ x 101″; (231 x 277 x 257 cm)
Provenance:  Scott Jacobson Gallery, New York, New York; Private Collection, Aspen, Colorado (acquired directly from the above, 1999)
Illustrated:  Wendell Castle: A Catalogue Raisonné 1958-2012. E. Eerdmans. 2014. #IV.644.

Estimate: $30,000–50,000
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

Lot 196
Wendell Castle
Abilene rocking chair
Studio, executed 2008
#4 of 8
Stainless steel
Signed and dated with edition to underside
30.5″ x 29″ x 52″; (78 x 74 x 132 cm)
Provenance:  Barry Friedman, Ltd., New York, New York; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California

Estimate: $40,000–60,000
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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