Remembering Kevin Castile

In Memory of Kevin Castile

On Friday, January 19, 2024, UM-Dearborn lost a vital member of its community. Kevin Castile, Lecturer II in Applied Art, passed away after a sudden illness. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy are with Kevin’s family and also with the many students and colleagues whose lives and careers Kevin had touched since he joined our campus in 2003. For two decades, Kevin taught the fundamental Applied Art courses of Design-Color and Painting, changing the way students saw the world around them and giving them new ways to express themselves.

Kevin Castile talking with students

Kevin was a wonderful and thoughtful person and colleague, who valued the bonds of community and always showed up in all the ways that one could expect and hope for, whether it be helping with a collaborative project, attending events for students including an Art Club trip to Chicago, or joining holiday gatherings with department colleagues and staff. For Madeleine Barkey, a fellow Applied Art Lecturer II, time spent with Kevin became a highlight of her teaching day. She said, “Kevin and I taught together for over 20 years, sharing the same office, classroom, and students. We would meet in our office for an hour each week, me just finishing my day, his about to start. I joked that we were like the Coyote and the Sheepdog in those old Warner Bros. cartoons, one punching in and one out. During those years of office hours, we would spend the time listening to music, weighing in on some New York Times Sunday article (we both got the paper edition each week), and talking about art and our world around it.” 

Kevin Castile with students in Chicago

Some members of the UM-Dearborn community might not have had many opportunities to be around Kevin as his courses were held in the evenings after he had put in full workdays at Henry Ford Health System as Management Engineer. When most people would be exhausted and looking forward to rest, Kevin would bring his energy, talent, and caring attitude to our students. 

The joy that Kevin derived from teaching was noted over the years by his students, who produced works that were frequently chosen for exhibition in the Michigan State House in Lansing as part of the Arts in the Legislature annual exhibition since 2014. Students also recommended Kevin’s courses to each other enthusiastically, such that sections of Painting were almost always full. Students had also gone on to independent studies with Kevin to hone their skills and nurture their creativity as he taught them how to develop an artist’s persistence. Former student Bella Martinic reflected that, “if I did not like what I had created, I will forever appreciate that Kevin always found and shared at least one thing positive about it— this kept me from being discouraged and giving up.” This sentiment was echoed by another student  who remarked on how Kevin brought them further than they could have imagined as an artist, “My art was not good but [Kevin] always complimented it and described his favorite parts in what I thought was the worst of the worst.” Madeleine Barkey reflected on Kevin’s love of teaching and his deep satisfaction in helping students grow, “[w]hen a student impressed him, [Kevin] glowed. We would often reminisce about someone who graduated and would recall their artwork. He took so much time with everyone, just listening and reflecting. He saw wonder in so many things I had dismissed. Sure enough, I would look again and see he was right. That always made me happy.” Kevin did more than show students their own strengths as artists; he also exposed them to inspiration. He would bring his students outside of the Art Studio in the CASL Building to the Berkowitz Gallery and now the Stamelos Gallery in Mardigian Library to see artworks on display. The curator of the Stamelos Gallery, Laura Cotton, noted that it was clear that Kevin was giving his students amazing lessons as he talked passionately to his students about art. Students found in Kevin a willing and supportive mentor who had the heart and soul of both a teacher and an artist. Students recognized, in the words of Bella Martinic, that “being Kevin’s student was such an immense privilege.” 

Kevin Castile

Kevin received his BFA and MFA in Painting from Wayne State University. He was deeply influenced by the Cass Corridor art movement that began in the 1960s and defined the vitality of the Detroit art community through the 1980s. Just two years ago, Art History professor Susan Erickson had asked Applied Art faculty to meet with Art History 402 seminar students to share their perspectives on artworks selected from the Stamelos Gallery Collection for their seminar exhibition. During this meeting, Kevin was especially excited to see a new gift, a painting by Gordon Newton. He explained to the students how Newton and others had inspired him as he was developing his style. At the end of the study session, Kevin asked with his great enthusiasm, “When can we do this again?” Kevin’s paintings reflect his talent and range, presenting a variety of abstract compositions that captivate and fascinate through color and form. Kevin saw the world as only an artist could; his personal photography that he shared on social media shows how his eyes always looked for and found interesting designs, colors, and forms in his surroundings. The way Kevin captured these vignettes transformed the mundane—buildings and streets, pools of water resting in tree roots, a garden—into the beautiful and wondrous through his vision. 

This was the talent he shared with his students. This was the way of seeing that he gave them through his teaching. Bella wrote after she learned of his passing, “There were many times I can remember when Kevin shared a picture of a simple shadow, an artist’s work, a color, or a technique that he found truly beautiful. I was actually thinking about him today - he inspired my love for Piet Mondrian, so much so that I have a small picture of one of Mondrian’s works on my desk at work that I was admiring. I was even looking into trying to buy a book of Mondrian’s collection of work this morning because it was Kevin’s copy that he showed me and changed how I see and create art. Kevin was a fantastic mentor, educator, and person.” 

Yet, Kevin also felt strongly that teaching gave back to him as well. Kevin’s wife, Denise, said that, “Kevin absolutely loved his job. He looked forward to it weekly and it made him so happy. The impact he made on everyone and them sharing their stories [at his celebration of life] was so important to me.” Kevin’s daughter, Brooke, told his UM-Dearborn colleagues after his passing that her father strongly felt that teaching made him a better artist. His work, Brooke said, changed completely after he began teaching as he focused on the fundamentals with his students. It was so important to Kevin to teach his students to do things the right way, because he saw in his own work how a mastery of the fundamentals enriches artistic practice. 

Kevin had looked forward to having more time to devote to his students after his retirement from Henry Ford in the spring of 2023. We, his Fine Arts colleagues and students, are tremendously saddened that this could not come to pass. As his Applied Art colleague Sarah Nesbitt reflected, “Kevin was a pleasure to work with. He genuinely loved being an educator and cared for his students. I’ve always had students in my classes either talk about how much they enjoyed his courses or bring up something they learned in his classes. We have many students who already feel comfortable making art, but we also have students who come to our classes who are interested in art but may not feel confident in what they create. Kevin provided that helpful, encouraging, and supportive space for them to explore and build their skills.” Student Cierra Evans said about Kevin, “He was such a wonderful professor and person, and he will be missed dearly.” 

Kevin's Photography

Kevin's Artwork

We will always remember and cherish Kevin for all that he contributed. We know that his legacy will continue in the lives of his students. We look forward to showcasing his artwork in the upcoming student-faculty art exhibition in the Stamelos Gallery, scheduled for January 2025, where Kevin’s beautiful pieces will mark his enduring presence. 

CASL Administration

2002 - College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters Building
4901 Evergreen Road
Dearborn, MI 48128
View on Map
Phone: 313-593-5490
Fax: 313-593-5552