Wendell Castle Vermillion Desk

By 1965 Wendell Castle was at the forefront of what was known as the Studio Craft, Studio Furniture, or Craft Furniture Movement. He was becoming the star among a group of artist/artisans who sought to make furniture by skilled hand and with such individual design and beauty that it became art. Castle would go further than any post war maker/designer to push furniture into an authentic art form. Castle had also shifted the technology of furniture making. He used the sculptor’s technique of “stack lamination” which calls for the gluing together of layers of wood to form a mass from which furniture can literally be sculpted, as opposed to the traditional joinery of panels, posts, and single strips of wood for each “bone” of the whole.
The desk and chair are of Vermillion, a wood now known more by the name Padauk. It is difficult to work with due to variations in hardness and, as Castle discovered, the dust can be most irritating. There would be no other major works in this wood by Castle. It is most entertaining and a bit bewildering to survey and study the curves, planes, and surfaces of this work. It seems almost impossible to conceive, construct, and manage all the shifts in form and line that Castle did with this desk. There is a definite Art Nouveau aspect, but when compared to antique Nouveau the older works often look flat and done with surface work only. Castle seems to have made the “nouveau” come from inside the desk. It bursts with ideas that appear to originate from deep within. Most Art Nouveau relies on surface decoration; Castle gave us depth and undulation of the entire body.

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