Untitled (Sugar Honey Maid Graham Crackers) [Cover book]

James Castle, American, 1899 - 1977

Made in Idaho, United States, North and Central America

Date unknown

Covers: flattened cardboard box; pages: soot-and-spit drawings with stick applied lines on found paper; bound with string

Book: 9 3/4 x 8 1/2 inches (24.8 x 21.6 cm)

© James Castle Collection and Archive LP

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of the Wade Family James Castle Collection, 2000

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Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The special quality of James Castle's art derives from the fact that his life was spent in profound silence. Born totally deaf and never learning to use the tools of sign language, reading, writing, or speaking, Castle lived out his seventy-seven years on small subsistence farms near Boise, Idaho. Drawing, his means of connecting and communicating with those around him, was virtually his sole occupation, and he pursued it almost daily with great diligence.

    The surfaces Castle chose to work on were usually made from things found around the house, such as used grocery bags, old letters, or cigarette wrappers. He created his own materials by combining stove soot and saliva or, for polychrome works, colored paper pulped and dissolved in water. The reused and irregular piece of paper or cardboard and the gritty and unpredictable homemade ink or pigment appealed to him over the neatness and uniformity of commercially made artists' materials. In the hard-worked surfaces of his pictures, mundane subjects such as barns, sheds, and farmhouse interiors take on a magical quality, still but powerful. A sense of mystery infuses them through his use of motifs like little imaginary square-headed, flat-bodied figures and strange, totemic treelike shapes standing like sentinels in the farmyards.

    The inspirations behind the two to three hundred handmade "books" Castle created are particularly difficult to fathom. Perhaps derived from comic strips or calendars, they often present numerous small images in gridlike arrangements or seem to depict the illustrated pages of printed books or family photograph albums. The sheets of paper, battered and worn at the edges, are carefully stitched with twine into covers made from used cigarette packs or the like.

    These books are among ten recently given to the Museum from the artist's estate. Combined with four other Castle drawings, they form part of the Museum's significant and growing collection of work by self-taught artists. Ann Percy, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 144.