The first American school to teach deaf students a codified language of signing was established in Connecticut in 1817. Before then, personal methods of communication were devised by families for use in their immediate circles. Although he was born in rural Idaho at the turn of the twentieth century, the deaf artist James Castle did not speak, sign, read, or write; he communicated with his family through his own system of hand gestures. That he was highly aware of his surroundings is evidenced by the many captivating drawings of landscapes, room interiors, and figures that he saw around him every day.
Castle had plentiful materials available, as his parents’ home served as the community’s post office and general store, but he preferred making his own supplies using matter from his environment that connected him directly to his artmaking. He used recycled paper and envelopes, made his own implements from sharpened sticks, devised pigment from stove soot mixed with saliva and colored tissue paper ground to a pulp, and made a flour paste for his collages. Through these raw materials, Castle documented his world, silent but closely observed.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Untitled (The Big Attic Interior)," exhibition label for Jubilation|Rumination: Life, Real and Imagined. Stacy C. Hollander, curator. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2012.