Review Detail

Kids Fiction 511
Portrait of a Folk Artist
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
4.0
Artist James Castle was born with many problems right before the turn of the last century. Raised on a farm, he was deaf, possibly autistic, and had learning difficulties. His family struggled to deal with his issues, and he was often sent to the attic, where he would do drawings with charcoal and found materials. When he was ten, he and a sister (who became deaf due to measles) were sent to the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind. He was drawn to the library, where he would watch teachers making books for their students. The teachers did not like him to draw, and took his drawings away when they felt they were making fun of other students. Eventually, he was sent home, where he continued to draw.

His family moved several times, and after his parents died, he ended up living with a sister. Eventually, his artwork came to the attention of a college professor, and he had his own shown in Portland. His artwork started to sell, and continued to grow in popularity after his death in 1977.
Good Points
Artist James Castle was born with many problems right before the turn of the last century. Raised on a farm, he was deaf, possibly autistic, and had learning difficulties. His family struggled to deal with his issues, and he was often sent to the attic, where he would do drawings with charcoal and found materials. When he was ten, he and a sister (who became deaf due to measles) were sent to the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind. He was drawn to the library, where he would watch teachers making books for their students. The teachers did not like him to draw, and took his drawings away when they felt they were making fun of other students. Eventually, he was sent home, where he continued to Say has carefully replicated the style of Castle's work in this picture book, using color sparingly, and evoking the sad events of Castle's life through black and sepia tones. The book is told from the perspective of a purported nephew of Castle's, making this a more fictionalized account. In notes in the back, Say says that interviews with family members and articles written at the time tell conflicting stories of Castle's challenges.

In this book, Say tries to explain Castle's eccentricities by fleshing out the outline of his life, and uses homages to some of Castle's own illustrations to try to understand what motivated and inspired this somewhat obscure folk artist.

Fans of Say's work, such as The Sign Painter and Drawing from Memory will find this portrait of a fellow artist to be an interesting addition to Say's portfolio.
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