James Castle: Memory Palace
James Castle Collection and Archive & Yale University Press, 2021
Self-taught artist James Castle (1899–1977) is primarily known for soot and saliva drawings of meticulously rendered domestic interiors and farm scenes, along with fantastical figures, animals, and architectural constructions made of cardboard and stitched paper. Castle was born into a family of homesteaders in Idaho, and his visual world comprised variations of seemingly ordinary subjects: rural landscapes, houses, barns, and outbuildings; interiors with closed and open doors, beds, bureaus, tile floors, and minutely patterned wallpaper; and color copies of illustrated advertisements for food, fuel, and matches.
Castle was a deaf artist who by most accounts never learned to read, write, or speak. In this remarkable book, author John Beardsley discusses how these limitations led to the development of an extraordinary memory, an ability that enabled him to create a large number of distinctly intelligent artworks. Beardsley follows Castle’s work as if through a series of rooms (a “Memory Palace”)—interiors, exteriors, objects, books, and words—reproducing many previously unknown works and referencing other documents made available for the first time from the James Castle Collection and Archive.