December 19, 2010 in City

Professor’s gift stuns Boise State

Art, books worth untold fortune
Tim Woodward Idaho Statesman
 
Associated Press photo

James Castle artwork was left to Boise State University by professor Tom Trusky.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Boise State University professor Tom Trusky lived in a north Boise house that needed paint and insulation, didn’t meet electrical codes and had bricks missing from a chimney. He lived so frugally that the gift in his will stunned even his closest friends.

Brilliant but eccentric, Trusky didn’t learn to drive or own a car until he was middle-aged. Having finally bought one, he went 35,000 miles between oil changes.

His favored mode of transportation: a battered Peugeot bicycle. Boise State’s lowest-paid English teacher for years, he waited until late in his life and then only as a long-distance necessity to buy a telephone.

Trusky, who died a year ago of heart failure at 65, worked out of a Boise State office rampant with clutter.

“I thought he was disorganized, but that was because I saw his office with piles of stuff everywhere,” said Cort Conley, a friend. “But the more I looked through his papers after he died, the more stunned I was.”

Trusky, the seemingly disorganized professor, had filed everything from postcards to art books. The most valuable he had banked.

“There were books I know he paid over $500 for 10 years ago on a teacher’s salary,” Conley said. “Books, poems, letters – everything was in acid-proof folders, coded and alphabetized. He saved anything he thought might have literary merit, and it was already archived.”

But the contents of his US Bank safe deposit box left Trusky’s associates reeling. Named as his personal representative in his will, Conley was staggered to open the box and find a dozen books by acclaimed artist and bookmaker James Castle.

Trusky was Castle’s biographer; Castle was one of Trusky’s many obsessions. But no one knew the extent or value of the Castle collection he’d locked away and left to Boise State in his will.

Greg Kucera, who sells Castle’s work at his Seattle gallery, says individual drawings have sold there for $5,000 to $20,000. The books in Trusky’s safe deposit box collectively contain hundreds of drawings potentially worth more than Boise State will make from its next bowl appearance.

“It’s a remarkably generous gift,” friend Troy Passey said. “But I don’t think that for Tom it was about the value. It was about the scholarship.”

Half of the books were gifts to Trusky from Castle’s late niece, Gerry Garrow. The others he came by in the course of his Castle research. His will stipulates that their recipient can never sell the books.

“If he had only made it a gift to the Broncos, it would have sailed through the uprights,” Conley said, “but one of Tom’s more endearing quirks was how much he detested football.”

Castle’s books are the most valuable part of Trusky’s legacy to the university, but not the only part. He also left his collection of zines and other art books worth thousands, correspondence and other materials that fill a room, six shelves high, in the university’s library.

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