Monday, December 1, 2008

Gee's Bend and James Castle

Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, (and to those of you spread elsewhere in the world, I hope you all had a lovely weekend!) We were busy like most of you enjoying family, good food and going here and there. I managed to catch a nasty cold and spent all of Saturday sprawled on the couch, (kind of like the last illustration in my previous post, but wrapped in blankets and clutching a box of tissue.)

But by Sunday I was feeling a bit better and hubby and I took off by ourselves for a much needed date.


We headed off in the pouring rain to the Philadelphia Museum of Art eager to see the quilts of Gee's Bend. I have wanted to see these quilts since they first came into public awareness. Seeing them up close and in person was almost like a religious experience, and I actually had to choke back the tears at times as I was so overcome by their power.



After spending a good deal of time soaking in the quilts, and feeling as inspired as I will ever be, we headed to the next exhibit where we were introduced to the works of James Castle. I am shocked that I had not heard of him before, but I had not... I really need to get out more.


Once again, my mind was blown by the amazing work laid out before me.


Apparently James was born deaf and mute, and I would wager autistic. He went to school for the deaf, but either rejected or was unable to learn traditional forms of communication.


However, James became proficient in his own forms of visual communication, executing many drawings and showing a masterful understanding of one point prospective. The drawings are mostly done with a mixture of soot and spit, applied with a hand carved stick to any recycled paper or cardboard he had on hand.


James also created intricate cardboard replicas of objects, birds, people and totem shapes, bound together with string.




And his books! So many books! Oh my, they were fabulous and fascinating, made of all sorts of recycled materials and filled with his sketches, doodles, and symbols, often repeated over and over again, to form a most beautiful language. What a truly remarkable human being.





I have often heard other artists discuss how seeing a certain show changed the direction of their own work, but have never myself experienced anything so profound despite having seen many, many wonderful shows throughout my life. But these two particular shows were different. Both left me changed, and I know, (the way you just know some things) that viewing the quilted works done by the fine woman of Gee's Bend, and the work done by the utterly fascinating James Castle, will absolutely have an effect on my work.

I thank them all for the gifts that they have given us through their undying artistic exploration, ingenuity and creative spirit.

16 comments:

kelly said...

I felt the same way when I saw the Quilts of Gee's Bend -- amazing work. Photos do not do them justice, do they?

Thanks for introducing me to James Castle. What a fascinating person!

Fer said...

Oh wow, I do so love those Gee's Bend quilts. What an inspiring weekend you had! :o)

cynthia korzekwa said...

great post!

Hey Harriet said...

Sounds like a perfect date! Thanks so much for sharing the work of James Castle. I've never heard of him but now I'm really keen to learn more. I would love to experience his work up close! What an inspiring fellow. Off to google James now.

Oh I liked the quilts also, but I'm just a little blown away by James! Hope you've fully recovered from your cold :)

High Desert Diva said...

I've read about the Gee's Bend quilts but had never seen any. And I've never heard of James Castle. Thanks for the visual intro to both.

Victoria Bennett Beyer said...

Thanks for sharing your newfound inspiration. I love that feeling when you've seen something profound, and you just feel bouyed by inspiration and motivation. I can't wait to see where this leads you :)

Amy C said...

oh I am jelous, I have the Gee's Bend book and have seen the documentary but am longing to see the quilts for real.

picciolo said...

thanks for sharing these, what wonderful exhibitions to see 'in the flesh'
: )

blazedanielle said...

Glad you had a great thanksgiving! :) Thanks for sharing new artists!! :)

Bascom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janis said...

I'm ashamed to admit I'm totally in the dark and don't know anything about Gee's Bend. I will have to research. The story of James Castle is SO touching and remarkable -- and his work, what can I say?! It's humbling to think of his energy and intensity. Thank you SO much for sharing!!!

Jackie said...

That was such a good read Victoria. I'd heard of Gees bend quilts before but not James Castle. Absolutely amazing and I can see why you found it so emotional. Thank you.

please sir said...

Sounds like a great time - and so much inspiration! Glad to hear you are feeling better!

Cicada Studio said...

Little is better than discovering something wonderful for the first time and you connect with it- it's like you said- a religious experience. I'm glad your special date was accentuated by this feeling.

karen said...

It must have been amazing to see the Gee's Bend quilts. I would love the chance.

AsturWatts said...

I am from the UK currently working in Spain, I am not an artist, but do visit galeries as I come across them. On a visit to Madrid last week having been given complementary tickets to Riena Sophia, I of course looked at the work of Miro,a personal favourite, and particularly Picasso's Gurnica, having visited the place earlier this year. But it was the James Castle exhibits that stuck in my mind and memory most on leaving. I found this blog from an internet search to find out more about an original and facininating artist.His dedication and the complexity of apparent simplicity needs a wider audience. So thank you James Castle I hope he realised the hopes that he put into his work for himself.