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James Castle was a remarkable individual. Born deaf in Garden Valley, Idaho, in 1899, Castle taught himself the skills and techniques he used in creating the art he left behind. He was not literate and could not speak English, nor was he fluent in ASL or any form of communication that was typical in his day. His family assigned him very few chores because of this, and in his free time, Castle soon developed a passion for illustration.
As he grew up, Castle lived for a time in Star, and at the age of thirty-two, moved to a home in Boise where he lived the remainder of his days creating many artistic pieces of varying tone and quality. The property had a house and shed, both there before Castle and his family moved in. These buildings served a major source of inspiration for his work. In the 60s he sold enough illustrations to be able to purchase a trailer separate from the house itself to make his own space. The trailer no longer stands, but the shed, a portion of the home that is over 100 years old, is still there, though behind a protective structure.
James Castle passed away in 1977, and it was not until 2017 that the City of Boise was able to acquire what used to be Castle’s home and preserve it as a place that plays an important role in Idaho history.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Castle’s work is now lost to us, but there are plenty of pieces left to admire that many hard working folks, including Boise City Department of Arts and History, have recovered, safeguarded, but also made visible for the public.
And thank goodness! This artist is a small slice of Idaho history that reveals the development of a portion of its art and culture as it unfolded over the 20th century.
You can visit the Jame Castle House Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm. It is now a museum devoted to Castle’s life and work. They also offer residency programs there for those who want to live and work in the house itself for an allotted period of time.
To both honor his memory and provide access to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, tours of this historic location in ASL are provided by the staff.
Go! visit the home and work space of James Castle, one of Idaho’s best artistic, historical, and cultural secrets.