|Wendell Castle at Memorial Art Gallery|
“The reward of merit is not life’s business.”
This is a quote from Julian Barnes’ novel “The Sense of An Ending.” Before that line he writes “later on in life, you expect a bit of rest, don’t you? You think you deserve it.”
Uh-oh, its’ that “deserve” part that sticks. The concept of deserving - for good behavior, for hard work, for obeying the rules, for being a good citizen - seems to be front and center of conversations these days - the subject of essays, editorials, and novels.
The theory goes “I did all the correct, required things - I played by the rules - I followed the path and look what’s happened? They cut in the line ahead of me! My job went to brown people and all the consumer goods that somebody convinced me I needed are somewhere else. It isn’t fair! When do I get mine?”
I have no idea. Armies of high-minded others seem to know. Not me. Life deals some people crap that they can’t escape while other people convert the same crap into compost and build rewarding - even great! - lives.
Nobody keeps a rule book and counts the gold stars but old age prompts a good look at the roads not taken, the “what ifs,” the questions of how did this happen and not that and what role does plain, dumb luck play in all this. I know because I’m there. So is Wendell Castle (See how I sneaked that in?) I just came home from Memorial Art Gallery where his one man show opened Friday.
Wendell is a national treasure, a wood worker who pushed ideas and shapes of wood into unimaginable territory. He’s managed to challenge the limits of both materials and tools. And now he is near the end of his life. The current solo exhibit is probably his last. What to make of this? What are his “what ifs?”
|Blanket Chest, 1965, Collection of Memorial Art Gallery|
No guess work, they are spelled out for us in the two videos that accompany the show. In them, Wendell talks about his middle-America upbringing, his total ignorance - growing up - of art and of being an outsider among his school mates. He had an art class in college and the professor sent him straight to another college that had a stronger art and design program. From there, Wendell made furniture. A piece entered in a group show in New York at the American Craft Museum brought him a job offer at Rochester Institute of Technology in the city where he spent the bulk of his life. A blanket chest he made and entered in Memorial Art Gallery’s Annual Finger Lakes Exhibit,1965, won Best of Show and the opportunity for a one-person show at the museum.
Connect the dots…an unexplained distinct sense of style and self as a youngster = a chance class in college with an astute professor = one music stand shown in a New York show that led to a lifetime professional partnership = an award at the hometown museum that determined his emphasis on sculptural design.
|Installation/New and Old Benches|
“Regrets…(he’s) had a few….but then again, too few to mention…”
Me too. Increasingly, it feels like I was struck by a lucky star to find myself in my own skin - deserved or not - and I am thankful. I think Wendell feels pretty much the same way.
I hope the same for you, dear reader.
(PS: The show…I didn’t much care. Some pieces I like; some pieces I don’t. Frankly - in case you haven’t guessed by now - it’s the man - the artist - I thought was more interesting.)