Boise, ID: Boise Art Museum, 2016

James Castle was a self-taught Idaho artist who lived and created art during most of the 20th century. In A Life Told Through Pictures, we learn about how he created is pices from materials that he found in and around his family’s home.  His subjects were mostly taken from everyday objects and places: a room, a bird, clothes, his house, or his dream house.  Castle was deaf from birth and, although he spent some time at the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind in Gooding, he didn’t learn to sign (it wasn’t taught at the time), and reading and writing didn’t stick since once he got home the family didn’t practice.  Castle’s art became his communication with the world.

This beautiful little book is meant for aspiring school age artists, but it is really very inspirational for artists and nonartists of all ages. It includes images of Castle’s art on every page, along with large type text describing his work and life.  It comes with a starter kit of inexpensive materials that are easy to replace after use.  At the end of the book, there are thought-provoking questions that could spark rich classroom discussions for students of any age.  There are also project ideas and instructions to make art pieces out of every day items, like Castle did.

Every public elementary school in Idaho received a copy of A Life Told Through Pictures, and junior highs and middle schools are up next to receive a copy.  This title fits equally well in both types of schools, as well as in the art section or in the professional development section of the library. It offers turn-key projects that are perfect for librarian/history or social studies/art teacher collaborations.  If you’ve not seen your school’s copy, please check with the person who handles your school’s mail.

Dewey:  709.2                                                                   Interest Level:  K-12

A book for all ages!

Fiction Pairing: The Dot by Peter Reynolds

Web resources:  

Boise Art Museum (BAM): find James Castle education resources, an audio version of A Life Told Through Pictures, curricular connections, and a Paper Bag Book activity.

James Castle Collection and Archive: see more of Castle’s work, read a more detailed biography, and explore links to more resources.

Boise Department of Arts and History: learn about and get a virtual tour of the James Castle House in Bose. This restoration project is just gettng underway, and this is the “before” version.