Remembering art educator Kevin Castile

May 12, 2024

The applied art lecturer, who encouraged students to find and appreciate beauty in the world, passed away Jan. 19.

Graphic of Kevin Castile, Applied Art lecturer who passed away in January 2024
Applied Art Lecturer Kevin Castile and works of his art. Graphic by Violet Dashi

Some people notice the beauty all around them: the pools of water that rest between the roots of trees, the ways building shapes dot the skyline, the texture and color in gardens. Art Lecturer Kevin Castile was one of these people. 

Castile, who taught at UM-Dearborn since 2003, passed away unexpectedly on Jan. 19. He was 65. The UM-Dearborn community — and especially his students — see the world a bit differently because of him. 

“Kevin had a truly inspiring and unforgettable gift to articulate how he saw the beauty in everyday things,”  said Bella Martinic, a 2023 UM-Dearborn graduate who is earning her Ph.D. in engineering psychology at Georgia Institute of Technology. “Even if I didn’t understand at first, he would explain with such passion about the beauty of what he was seeing — like how a shadow fell on the ground — that you couldn’t help but to fall into awe with it as well.”

Applied Art faculty member Kevin Castile
Applied Art faculty member Kevin Castile

Teaching painting, and color theory and design, Castile rarely missed a class session in his 20-plus years — the dedicated educator taught his two evening classes after getting off work from his full-time engineering position at Henry Ford Health System. When Castile ended up in the hospital during the Winter 2024 semester, it was one of the only times he’d canceled. “If you knew Kevin, you know that he had so much energy and enthusiasm for art and teaching. He was on campus at every opportunity,” Ng said. “Kevin was so generous with his time and talent and he planned to teach more courses when he retired from Henry Ford Health System in 2023. This was sudden and still seems unbelievable.”

In January 2025, the Applied Art program’s faculty-student exhibit will include a tribute to Castile and showcase his art pieces — which will be on loan from Castile’s wife Denise and children Michael, Brooke, David and Paige— in a section of the Stamelos Gallery. It’s a fitting tribute to honor an artist who loved discussing, creating and viewing works with his students.

“What Kevin loved about his work at U-M was sharing his passion for art and watching the growth and development of his students' abilities, no matter how big or small,” said wife Denise Castile. “He loved being able to extend his teaching beyond the artistic component and just get to know the students and talk about things that brought them joy. He valued creating a space for students to feel comfortable enough to create art and find confidence in themselves as people and artists.”

Castile helped plan UM-Dearborn Art Club trips to Chicago museums with Applied Art Lecturer Julie Lambert. He assisted Applied Art Lecturer Sarah Nesbitt with getting student art shown in Lansing’s Art in the Legislature Program. And participated in seminars leading to student-led exhibits on campus with Art History Professor Susan Erickson and Stamelos Gallery Center Curator Laura Cotton. 

“He gave students a love of looking at original art and finding inspiration from it and enjoyed taking his classes to galleries. Kevin cared about helping people see things they may not have noticed before,” said Erickson, who asked Castile to work with students in an art history capstone course. “He approached students as individuals, as he’d look at ways to help them create their portfolios. Teaching brought him joy.”

Castile, who earned his BFA and MFA at Wayne State University, was influenced by the Cass Corridor art movement that began in the 1960s and defined the vitality of the Detroit art community through the 1980s. Ng said Castile had a knack of noticing patterns of color and repetition in form in everyday life.

Kevin saw the world as only an artist could. His paintings and photography show how his eyes always looked for and found interesting designs, colors and forms in his surroundings,” Ng said. “The way Kevin captured these vignettes transformed the mundane into the beautiful and wondrous through his vision.”

Applied Art Lecturer Madeleine Barkey shared an office with Castile for two decades. When they weren’t in the classroom or working on other course-related projects, they’d discuss art, listen to music and work on their New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles. “Kevin was a highlight of my teaching day,” Barkey said. “Kevin and I taught together for over 20 years, sharing the same office, classroom and students — we’d talk about art and our world around it. I miss him terribly and it was hard to finish the term without him.”

Martinic, Castile’s former student,  said she has a small image of abstract artist Piet Mondrian’s “Composition in line, 1916/Composite in lijn, 1917,” on her desk. She said Castile introduced her to Mondrian’s works and the image is her reminder to stop and observe the world around her and that simple things, when combined in creative ways, can be innovative. 

“I like to have it on my desk because it reassures me that I already have all the tools needed to solve complex problems in my work, I just need to think outside the box to put them together and make them work,” she said. “Kevin was so influential in my development as an artist and a person. He continues to inspire me everyday. Kevin was a fantastic mentor, educator and person who will be deeply, deeply missed.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.