American Master Artisans, Artists And Designers
New York City is one of the most inspiring cities in the world. Today, NY Design Agenda decided to present to you remarkable American master artisans, artists, and designers.
Wendell Castle was a true giant in the world of design. He was always a creative soul until the end, he was even preparing a new art piece when he passed away, at the age of eighty-five. Wendell was a man who never stopped dreaming and making those dreams a reality.
He was born in Emporia, Kansas, in 1932. In his childhood years, he struggled with dyslexia. “I was not good at anything”, he confessed in 2016. The only exceptions were “drawing and daydreaming, neither of which were valued”.
At the time, it was extremely painful for him, but in later years he was remarkably open about this experience, sharing it with younger artists who might be suffering their own setbacks and self-doubts. His message was always: a new reality is there, just waiting to be imagined, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
With a pure creative drive, which would stay with him lifelong, Wendell prevailed over his early obstacles and entered an industrial design program at the University of Kansas. He began his career, however, through sculpture, receiving a Master of Fine Arts in that field in 1961.
When studying, Wendell decided to build himself a toolbox rather than spending money on one. His professor wanted to know why he was wasting time making a functional object instead of artwork. Castle said to himself, why not do both at once?
A decade before the concept of radical design emerged, he began reinventing furniture forms at every level. His earliest craftsmanship works were sinuous and sculptural, all choreographed curves, not a straight line or right angle to be seen. Using traditional joinery, Castle brought to life his art pieces, but with very peculiar cage-like structures and curved elements, which he carved from gunstocks.
At the initial stage of his career, he also created a lyrical music stand, a calligraphic drawing in space, which is widely recognized as one of the great works of 20th-century design.
Thanks to his beautiful and innovative craftsmanship masterpieces he was invited to be an instructor in the furniture department at the School for American Craftsmen, Rochester Institute of Technology. Although he left his position there in 1971, he would later return as an Artist in Residence and remained in Rochester, New York, for the rest of his life.
He then started to dedicate himself to a new process called “stack lamination” craftsmanship. Remembering a Delta Tools pamphlet, he had as a kid, which told how to carve a duck decoy from a set of pre-sawn glued blocks, he realized he could do the same at large scale. This technique freed him to pursue his imagination wherever it led.
He created colossal biomorphic tables, seating forms, twisting spiral staircases, extraordinary pieces that engaged the walls and floor of a room in unconventional ways. While he was focused on furniture, he maintained the instincts and formal references of sculpture, inspired by Henry Moore.
Soon, Wendell had followers and admirers all over the world and began to be showcased in renowned international exhibitions, including the 1964 Milan Triennale and the seminal touring show Objects USA (1969). His innovative contributions in molded plastic furniture, including the adored Molar chairs (1969) were the first significant ones made in America.
His interest in trompe l’oeil originated a series of uncanny still life-based objects, culminating with the Ghost Clock (1985), a beloved icon in the collection of the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Later, he began to explore the historic furniture styles from which he had always radically departed. His reinventions of Art Deco and Neoclassicism reflected the contemporary postmodern interest in the past and gave him opportunities to explore narrative themes.
A particularly interesting series from this period was based on the 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Executed in a palette of white, black and gray, it is the climax of expressionism in furniture history. Some pieces belong to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Friedman Benda began working with Wendell in 2006. Though the artist was ten years past legal retirement age at the time, he accepted the collaboration with his overwhelming energy.
Misha Kahn was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1989. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011 and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Tel Aviv the following year. In 2008, Misha’s work was included in 20 under 20 at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.
His concrete Heyerdahl lamps were among the works in Bjarne Melgaard’s 2013 installation at the Whitney Biennial, and his craftsmanship work was exhibited in 2014 at NYC Makers: MAD Biennial at the Museum of Art and Design, New York. Misha Kahn lives and creates his craftsmanship art pieces in Brooklyn.
Chris Schanck is a Detroit-based designer who embraces contradiction in his work, finding a comfortable place between the discrepancies of dilapidation and assemblage, individual and collective, industrial and handcraft, romanticism and cynicism.
His efforts depart from the mass-produced, instead of reviving ordinary materials by transforming them into unique pieces of uncommon luxury craftsmanship. Schanck is perhaps best known for his “Alufoil” series, in which industrial and discarded materials are sculpted, covered in aluminum foil and then sealed with resin. Schanck received a B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in Sculpture and an M.F.A in Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 2011, Schanck moved to Detroit and founded a growing studio with over a dozen artists, students, and craftsmen.
What do you think about these American artists and their amazing pieces of art? Feel free to comment and share!
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