The city of Boise will take ownership of famed self-taught artist James Castle’s tiny white trailer Oct. 1. The trailer is a gift from the James Castle Collection and Archive in Boise. Castle lived and worked in the trailer on his family’s homesite in West Boise from the mid-1960s until his death in 1977.
The acquisition will help the city’s Department of Arts and History complete its major project to transform the Castle homesite at Eugene Street and Hill Road into a complex that includes gallery space, an artist’s residence and a garden as well as public access to the rooms and structures where Castle created his drawings and collages.
“The trailer completes the project,” said Rachel Reichert, James Castle House manager/community relations manager at Arts and History.
The small trailer has been in storage in Boise for a few years after sitting on property owned by Castle’s sister for many years. It will be placed again on its original site on Eugene Street near a shed where Castle also spent time.
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Crews will restore the trailer and the shed, as well as the main house on the property. The site will open to the public in the fall of 2017.
The city received more good news, Reichert said. The James Castle Collection and Archive has also donated $100,000 to support programs at the Castle House.
The Idaho Community Foundation is managing the James Castle House fund. It is accepting public donations online at idcomfdn.org.
More about the trailer
The trailer is white clapboard with shutters. It was made by the Cozy Cottage Trailer Corp., a small California company. It includes homey touches, including wood shutters. The Castle family added a small addition to the trailer to make the space a little larger for James.
More about Castle
Castle was born in Garden Valley in 1899. Historians believe he was born deaf. He didn’t use language in the traditional sense, but instead communicated with others and occupied himself through a prolific output of drawings, collages, small books and assemblages — including evocative folded paper figures of people.
Adding to the poignancy of his work, he used salvaged materials, including packages, food containers, envelopes, string and other mailing materials, to create his pieces. He made his own ink through a mix of soot and spit. Much of his imagery focused on local landscapes, buildings, trees and animals.
Castle’s work gained its first public attention in the 1950s when his nephew came home on break from art school in Portland and realized his uncle’s talents. The nephew’s professors agreed. They included Castle’s works in an exhibition, which led to other exhibitions, including at Boise Art Museum in the early 1960s. Happily, Castle was able to attend the show’s opening reception and see his work hanging on museum walls.
After Castle’s death in 1977, his family found the interest in his work overwhelming and held the collection, unseen, for 20 years. In the late 1990s, his work was shown at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City. Exhibitions in galleries and museums followed, including a retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2013. The 2013 Venice Biennale also included 11 works by Castle.
Despite being self-taught and inventing his own “paint,” Castle created work that still gives a tangible sense of place, of temperature, of mood, of light and of a rural landscape that can be at times isolated and melancholy, but warm and populated at others.
“Castle was not ‘in’ the art world,” said Reichert, “but he was still somehow connected to the art of the time. His art was his way of speaking to the world.”
The city bought the Castle homesite for $200,000 in 2015.
Take a Castle road trip
The community of Garden Valley, where James Castle and his family lived for many years, is joining with the Boise City Department of Arts and History to host James Castle Days, Friday, Sept. 23, through Sunday, Sept. 25 in Garden Valley. Events include Castle’s Hoedown, a live music event with refreshments and games on Sept. 23, a Castle-inspired art show, a James Castle birthday celebration on Sept. 24 and an ice cream social on Sept. 25. Find a full list of events at boiseartsandhistory.org.