Art Supplies Found in UI's Excavation of Boise’s James Castle House
October 14, 2016
Nearly 40 years after his passing, objects found at the residence of Boise artist James Castle (1899-1977) are shedding light on his life and how he created his art. Over the last week, University of Idaho faculty, students and alumni conducted an excavation of the world-renowned artist’s former residence with the hopes of reclaiming pieces of Castle’s life.
The pieces found at the site included some of his unique art making tools. Castle was known to use discarded or ‘found’ objects in his art. For instance, a matted wad of cloth was presumably used as a homemade paintbrush. Drawing sticks, graphite, a glass lens and possibly other materials were found during excavations of the shed where he lived and worked.
“In a very short period of time we accomplished a lot. It was a project that helped the city, reached an awful lot of people, and depending on our analyses, can potentially tell us something about Castle’s daily life.” said Mark Warner, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in UI’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. “The things we found can help the city of Boise in the restoration of the house, and we exposed a lot of people to archaeology. These folks ranged from students at three universities that volunteered to the nearly three hundred visitors to the site, including approximately 75 elementary school children.”
As a leader in historical archaeology, the University of Idaho was hired by the Boise Department of Arts and History to recover historical materials at the site prior to the start of a planned restoration. The James Castle House will open in October 2017 as a public space featuring exhibits, artist-in-residency programs, an art studio and bookshop.
“Working with Mark and his team at the University of Idaho brought new dialogue to the Castle story and introduced Castle to an entirely new field,” said Terri Schorzman, director of the Boise City Department of Arts and History. “Pairing archaeology, local history and the arts with engagement opportunities allowed both the City of Boise and the University of Idaho to collaboratively involve residents and visitors in a meaningful way. These engagement opportunities make our efforts inclusive and more accessible.”
The objects found at the site will go to the University of Idaho for cleaning and analysis before being returned to the city of Boise for permanent curation. A portion of the materials recovered also will be displayed after the renovation of Castle’s home is complete.
Hands-on opportunities like the excavation of the James Castle House are a hallmark of the University of Idaho’s anthropology program. Students lead and manage the efforts at the site, including public outreach, restoration and volunteer engagement. This was the fifth archaeological project that the University of Idaho has conducted in the Boise area since 2012. Previous locations include the historic Fort Boise site, the River Street neighborhood and the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga house in Boise’s Basque block.
Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Idaho
James Castle House Manager/Community Relations Manager
City of Boise
About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at uidaho.edu