Silent Days, Silent Dreams
October 31, 2017
James Castle was born two months premature on September 25, 1899, on a farm in Garden Valley, Idaho. He was deaf, mute, autistic, and probably dyslexic. He didn't walk until he was four; he would never learn to speak, write, read, or use sign language.
Yet, today Castle's artwork hangs in major museums throughout the world. The Philadelphia Museum of Art opened "James Castle: A Retrospective" in 2008. The 2013 Venice Biennale included eleven works by Castle in the feature exhibition "The Encyclopedic Palace." And his reputation continues to grow.
Caldecott Medal winner Allen Say, author of the acclaimed memoir Drawing from Memory, takes readers through an imagined look at Castle's childhood, allows them to experience his emergence as an artist despite the overwhelming difficulties he faced, and ultimately reveals the triumphs that he would go on to achieve.
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
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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