Printmaker, painter, sculptor, and illustrator Federico Castellon was born in Almeria, Spain, on September 14,1914, the third youngest of seven siblings. His family immigrated to the United States in 1921, settling in Brooklyn, New York. Largely autodidactic, Castellon began teaching himself how to sketch as a child, and as he got older would visit museums and galleries to study the old master and modern works, equally inspired by both.
With his accent and immigrant background, he felt like an outcast and rarely had playmates, a situation that perhaps lent itself to a deeper concentration on independent study. As was expected at the time, his family, aside from his mother, mostly discouraged his line of interest, hoping he would find gainful employment in a more conventional way. However, the time was ripe in New York for young artists: art programs were abundant in public schools, and many faculty members were proficient in the technical aspects of art. His talent was recognized and his pursuits encouraged by many of his grammar school teachers; at Erasmus High School he was awarded the Art Medal, and was asked to create a mural for the school. The mural exhibited at Raymond & Raymond Galleries in New York, drawing critical acclaim, before being permanently installed in the school.
It was not too long after this that Castellon met Diego Rivera, when his mother brought him to lecture given by Rivera during his installation of the murals at Rockefeller Center. Diego’s interest in the young artist’s work helped launch Castellon’s career. He introduced the 18 year-old to Carl Zigrosser, the director of Weyhe Gallery in Manhattan, where Castellon secured his first solo exhibition. In 1934, with Diego’s help, he was awarded a four-year traveling fellowship to study in Europe. He spent much of the time in Paris, studying painting, sculpting, and printmaking. In 1938 he met printmaker George Miller, in whose workshop he began learning lithography. By 1940 his work had been selected for several shows, including an exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute and the one at the Whitney Museum, and he received the first of two Guggenheim Fellowships, which allowed him to travel and study throughout the United States.
In 1943, he became a U.S. Citizen, and that same year he drafted into the Army. This took him to China and India, places that would influence his art in later years. In 1946 he was invited to teach at Columbia University during the summer courses, despite having pursued no further formal education after high school. He returned every summer for 14 years, and would later teach at the Pratt Institute and Queens College. In the 1950s he was received commissions by Life magazine to do a variety of major illustrations, as well as independent commissions for book illustrations. In 1952, a major exhibition at Weyhe Gallery gained him a second Guggenheim Fellowship, and he moved with his wife and children to Europe for further study; in 1954, after his return, he was sent by the U.S. State Department on a lecture tour of South America.
He continued to teach, study, and exhibit throughout the 1960s, and was elected membership to the National Academy of Design in New York. Castellon was awarded First Prize from the Library of Congress, and received the Mary Collins Prize of the Philadelphia Print Club. He was a member of the Society of American Graphic Artists.
Federico Castellon died in New York on July 7, 1971.