First look inside the James Castle House and his lost artworks
When the restored and expanded James Castle House opens to the public on Saturday, April 28, its attractions will include a major exhibition of 61 works by the Idaho-born artist, some of which have never been seen by the public before.
They will remain on public display for a year. They will belong to the city of Boise forever.
The James Castle Collection and Archive is donating the 61 works to the city, a gift valued at more than $1.1 million. They include drawings that allude to the house itself and its surroundings, including a shed that still stands on the property and the trailer where Castle lived during the last years of his life.
The collection includes 11 drawings and books that have never been seen before. They were found at the house in 2016 during the restoration.
Rachel Reichert, the city’s cultural sites manager, said she found the works on a dark, cold day in a small side room, hidden inside a wall covered with newspaper and fabric insulation.
“I just had a feeling something was in there,” Reichert said.
Peeling away the layers of insulation revealed the artwork, blank paper, marbles, pencils, fabric scraps, and a bag that once held tobacco and that still held a scent left from whenever Castle placed it in the wall.
For Reichert, the find was the most significant part of the restoration. “These are objects that went directly from Castle’s hands to ours,” she said.
Castle’s subjects included farms, his home and its interiors, and household objects. “Other works move beyond the documentary to include invented words and symbols, fantastical calendars, and books with cryptic pictorial narratives,” said the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which has 54 of his pieces.
Jacqueline Crist, of Boise, the managing partner of the James Castle Collection and Archive, said the limited partnership is proud to contribute the 61 pieces in light of the city’s work to preserve Castle’s family home.
“James Castle is now recognized internationally as a great American artist and so this tribute, so respectfully realized by the city of Boise, will ensure that his legacy will live on,” Crist said.
The donated pieces are the first and only Castle works in the city’s collection.
A HOUSE OF MYSTERIES
Castle, born deaf in 1899 in Garden Valley, communicated through his art. He was prolific, often using sticks, soot and his own saliva to create drawings, books, collages and other pieces. His materials included scrap paper and packaging.
A nephew in art school was the first to recognize his uncle’s talents, leading to exhibitions in the 1960s and 1970s. Castle’s work gained prominence again in the 1990s when it was shown at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City. His work is now in collections at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and many other institutions across the world.
Castle lived at the family home, now the James Castle House, from 1931 until his death in 1977. The house is at 5015 Eugene St., at the corner of Eugene Street and Castle Drive east of North Pierce Park Lane.
The house has a history of churning up surprising objects, including art-making materials like wads of cloth used to daub paint and improvised drawing tools found during a University of Idaho archaeological dig in 2016.
Jeannie Schmidt, who is not related to the Castle family, bought the home in 1996 and discovered more than 150 pieces of Castle artwork in the ceiling. That work became the subject of a 2012 lawsuit to determine its ownership. A judge decided that the work belonged to the Castle estate, not Schmidt.
Schmidt sold the Castle house to the city of Boise in 2015 for $200,000.
Castle drew landscapes, farmscapes, scenes from the Gooding School for the Deaf and Blind, clothing and people. The newly found pieces “are a really great representations of Castle’s soot-and-spit drawings,” Reichert said.
The house also includes a retail area. It will support an artist-in-residence program.
An exhibition: “Between Board and Batten: Works from the James Castle House,” opening Saturday, April 28. The exhibit will be on display for one year at the James Castle House, 5015 Eugene St., 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays, free admission.
Fettuccine Forum: Making the James Castle House, 6-7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 12 at Boise City Hall.
Artist talks by Troy Passey/J. Reuben Appelman on their exhibition, “Woodsmoke,” inspired by the art of James Castle. 6-7 p.m., Friday, April 13 at MING Studios, 420 S. 6th St. in Boise. Free and open to the public.
James Castle House: A Place Called Home Inaugural Symposium, April 26-27, featuring visiting scholars, collectors and curators from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Mystic Seaport, Stanford University and more. $250-$325. Registration required here.
James Castle House: Opening party and community film screening, 7-9:30 p.m., Thursday, April 26 at the Egyptian Theater. Free admission, but online registration is required.
James Castle House: Public Opening & Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, noon-6 p.m., Saturday, April 28 at the James Castle House, 5015 Eugene St. in Boise. Free and open to the public.