Art furniture pioneer Wendell Castle has died aged 85, after a battle with leukaemia. RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) – where Castle was an artist-in-residence and taught from 1962 to 1969 – announced that the much celebrated American craftsman, designer and artist passed away on 20 January.

Born in Kansas in 1932, he studied both industrial design and fine arts degrees at the University of Kansas, going on to practice as a sculptor and designer for more than six decades. Renowned for his vanguard ability to straddle both disciplines, Castle fashioned a new method of creating furniture, where forms are unrestricted, and technical limits lifted.

From left, ‘Benny’ (with neon spine); ‘Fat Albert’; ‘Raquel’ (with illuminated spine), all in auto paint on gel-coated fibreglass reinforced plastic. The series was designed by Wendell Castle (W*129) in 1969 but never produced; eight new examples of each lamp were made and signed by Castle in 2010, and exhibited at New York gallery R 20th Century’s tenth anniversary exhibition (W*141). Producer: Michael Reynolds. Photography: Anthony Cotsifas

In the 1960s and 70s, he gained a name for himself as father to the studio furniture movement. Working with hot-red plastics, bronze and (most often) plywood, Castle created whimsical, biomorphic chairs, tables, cabinets and sculptural objects marked by their exquisite craftsmanship, stylistic variety and inventiveness. Today, pieces belong to the permanent collections of more than 50 world-class museums and galleries.

This pioneering spirit, fuelled by a steady refusal to be formally categorised, lasted a lifetime. When asked ‘What’s ugly?’ in 2010, during a photoshoot with Wallpaper* at his upstate New York home, he replied: ‘Ugly to me isn’t necessarily a bad word. I kind of like ugly. Beautiful might be less interesting.’

Castle is survived by his wife, the acclaimed artist Nancy Jurs; brother, Wayne; sister, Nancy; two children, and two grandchildren. §