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[BKARTS] Book Artist Biography Publisher

August 2, 2004


        A new biography titled James Castle: His Life and Art explores
the life, genius and motivation behind one of Idaho's greatest
enigmas. Written by Tom Trusky, a Castle expert, director of the
Hemingway Western Studies Center and Boise State University English
professor, the book contains rare documents and photographs, exclusive
interviews with Castle's family and childhood friends and the
testimony of contemporary art and medical experts.
              Labeled for his entire life as deaf, mute, illiterate and
mentally challenged, Castle is now thought to have actually been
autistic. Born in 1899 in the mountain town of Garden Valley, Idaho, he
was the fifth of seven children. He never learned to speak, had a
limited ability to read and write and he seemingly refused to be taught
to sign. His primary form of communication was the thousands of drawings
and illustrations he produced during his lifetime. Houses, domestic
scenes, family members and friends were endlessly rendered in what some
have termed a primitive "folk art" style from crude tools and
supplies - ink made from soot and saliva, pens fashioned from twigs or
sticks, and canvases scavenged from scrap paper, cardboard, books and
the many catalogs that flowed through his parents' general store and
post office. Even when family, friends, curators and artists purchased
paints and brushes for him, late in his career, he preferred to make his
own tools.  Amazingly, although unschooled, he was able to grasp the
concept of several artistic principles, including vanishing point
perspective. Largely undiscovered and unappreciated during his lifetime,
he is now considered by many art historians to prefigure a number of the
major schools and -isms of 20th century art.
            After decades of making unrecognized art in an icehouse and
abandoned chicken shed, Castle began making "Dreamhouses" in the
1940s. These small drawings, if black and white, were fancifully
fashioned homes with polka-dot roofs and tweed, plaid or herringbone
siding. For color "Dreamhouses," Castle used apricot pits to scrape
the wax coating from dairy product containers. The artist would then wet
colored paper and laboriously rub the tinctures into the feathery,
scraped container surfaces, creating vibrant glowing replicas of the
residences that took root in his imagination. His family realized he was
trying to communicate with them and in 1963 purchased a small mobile
home using proceeds from the sale of his works. Castle, who moved to the
Boise Valley with his family in 1924, worked in this "Dreamhouse"
for more than a decade before he died in Boise in 1977.
        In addition to his drawings, Castle filled hundreds of books
with illustrations during his lifetime. The most rare and intriguing are
his Icehouse Books. Found in an icehouse in Garden Valley, the handmade
book art volumes have survived fire, ice, decay, demolition and
indifference - some even survived the Teton Dam disaster in 1974.
Another set of four books, known as the Early Attic Collection, was
recently discovered in a box of tattered books and catalogs purchased
for $10 at a Caldwell estate auction. Those books are now being stored
in the climate-controlled archives at Boise State's Albertsons
Library. They will be unveiled at an international conference this fall
on the East Coast.
               In his capacity as Castle's biographer, Trusky has
written articles in Biblio, Raw Vision, Folk Art, Journal of Artists'
Books and The Idaho Review. With Boise State communication professor
Peter Lutze, he directed and wrote the video documentary Dreamhouse: The
Art & Life of James Castle for Painted Smiles Press. In 2000, Dreamhouse
premiered on Idaho Public Television. As well, Trusky has curated Castle
art book exhibitions in Canada, England, New York, Chicago and other
U.S. venues.
         James Castle: His Life and Art (190 pages, hardback and
paperback, $29.95 and $19.95, more than 100 black and white and color
illustrations) is published by the Idaho Center for the Book. Proceeds
from the book's sale pay for ICB printing expenses.

Tom Trusky
Department of English
208 426-1999

Media Contact
Kathleen Craven
News Services
208 426-3275

This news release and a photo of the book cover are available online at


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