Crafting a Private Commission
Memories of Wendell
My husband and I had just married, and he was still in graduate school finishing up his PhD at CalTech in Pasadena, when we began collecting American craft, primarily ceramics and glass. We were also members of the American Craft Council and regular readers of their magazine, Craft Horizons. Sometime in the mid-1960s they published an article about Wendell Castle and his furniture; we were already aware of Sam Maloof and George Nakashima but had not yet discovered Wendell and were immediately intrigued by his work.
We moved east in the late 1960s and ended up settling in Rochester, New York, where my husband worked for DuPont. We built a new home and were sorely in need of furniture, especially for our dining room. Through the 60s we had continued to follow Wendell’s career with great interest and knew he was at the Rochester School for American Craftsman (RIT). We reached out to him about building our dining room furniture and set up a meeting at his home/studio in Scottsdale, NY. I remember that we arrived right on time but found no one home. After waiting for about an hour we were preparing to leave, thinking he had forgotten about our appointment, when we spotted Wendell riding down the street on his bicycle with a badminton racket sticking out of his back pocket. At that moment, my husband and I knew that this would be a lovely adventure with a very likable man.
Thus began a once-in-a-lifetime experience over the next six months of watching the design, construction, finishing, and installation of our sideboard, table, and chandelier by Wendell. We visited the studio almost every weekend to see his progress and visit with him and his wife, Nancy Jurs. Oftentimes our four-year-old son joined us and Wendell would take him around the studio to show him pieces under construction and explain the designs to him. I vividly remember him showing our son the niches, or “feelies,” on two opposing sides of the table and demonstrating to him how you could run your hands over them while sitting at the table. This is something that nearly every family member or guest had done during a dinner at our home. The base of the table was also a source of fascination and fun; our boys, grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews enjoyed climbing through the base as children. It developed into a rite of passage when they could no longer fit through it.
These three cherished works traveled with us to four different homes and have been host to countless happy memories with friends and family over the past forty-five years. I am delighted, as would have been my late husband, that they will be enjoyed by new owners for years to come.