Two side-by-side photos of Wendell Castle's home. In the first photo Wendell is wearing a white shirt, pinstripe jacket and round, blue glasses in his living room. And in the second photo of the hallway, Fozzie the dog is standing in front of an all-white installation by Wendell's wife Nancy Jurs
Left, Wendell Castle, pictured in his living room in upstate New York in 2009 (W*128). Right, Fozzie, the dog in the hallway, in front of an installation that featured in his sculptor wife Nancy Jurs’ ‘Déjà Vu’ exhibition at Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, earlier that year. Photography: Mauricio Alejo
(Image credit: Mauricio Alejo)

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.

View of the ‘Benny’, ‘Fat Albert’ and ‘Raquel’ floor lamps by Wendell Castle - three arched, bulbous-like floor lamps in green, dark blue and metallic colours pictured on a reflective surface against a dark, cloudy background

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

(Image credit: 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.

Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.