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This week Boise, Idaho, took ownership of the late self-taught artist James Castle’s longtime home, which will be restored into a cultural facility commemorating his life and offering residency and exhibition space to local and national artists. The small compound of simple houses surrounded by towering trees will be the state’s only publicly-accessible site dedicated to the life of an artist. It’s here that, from 1931 to 1977, Castle created many of his resourceful assemblages with found paper from advertisements and food packaging, often using sticks to draw with soot and spit on their surfaces, creating a distinct visual language that was the deaf artist’s main form of communication.
“Just like so many significant historic sites, the James Castle Home Site is threatened,” Terri Schorzman, director of the Boise Department of Arts and History, told Hyperallergic. “The historically important property is located outside of the city’s historic districts and is not protected from new development.”
By purchasing the home site, the city will be able to protect it from any future development in the area. As the Idaho Statesman reported last month, the restoration of the West Boise site will be lead by the Boise Department of Arts and History as part of its general operations, providing curatorial, educational, and promotional administration with support from the mayor and City Council. It’s planned to open in 2017.
While Castle got recognition in his lifetime and is now arguably Idaho’s most famous artist, Castle’s national profile has only risen since his death in 1977. In 2013, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired 54 works by Castle, many of which were displayed in a 2014 exhibition. In 2008, the Philadelphia Museum of Art organized a retrospective, and his gritty art is included in the inaugural exhibition at the new Whitney Museum of Art building, America Is Hard to See. Despite the recognition, his drawings and material collages are still unusual enough to catch you off guard, with the skewed perspectives, arcane symbolism, and boxy figures, and folded birds held together with twine. Rural Idaho is very much present in the imagery of long roads and even some of Castle’s houses, and the home site in Boise will preserve both the architecture and the surrounding landscape, with an exhibition space to explore his life and art in its original context.
Additionally, the James Castle Home Site will host a live-in artist residency program and rotating exhibitions paid for through public funding, which will make most of its programming either free or very affordable. The site will also act as a hub for local cultural resources like the James Castle Collection and Archive and the Boise Art Museum, which houses a significant collection of his art.
“Experiencing the home and workplace of James Castle through tangible, place-based experiences makes the James Castle story real and allows our community to be a part of the conversation,” Schorzman said.