Toward the end of October Satch and I spent three days in Kewanna. The plan was to dig deeper into the archive of the artist James Spencer Russell (Jim) to broaden our understanding of his life. The plan worked out incredibly well. Thanks to Wade Bussert and Diane Tesler we were able to accomplish a tremendous amount of work and have a more than enjoyable time.
Diane hosted us in her bungalow that is right on Main Street next to the library and across the street from the local bank. It’s just a short walk to Diane’s studio that is on the corner of Main Street and Logan Street (Indiana Highway 17). Recently Diane permanently located from Alexandria, Virginia to Keawanna. She has been spending late Spring through Fall in Kewanna for over twenty years but now she makes Kewanna her home. While we were there she was just finishing up getting heaters installed in the her studio to combat the cold temperatures of an Indiana winter.
We arrived at Diane’s studio after lunch on October 25. After greetings and a bit of catching up with Diane and Wade, who was a good friend of Jim’s and is an excellent artist in his own right, Wade put us right to work. He drug out four large plastic tubs full of Jim’s papers and photographs and told us to dig in. We looked at each other and couldn’t believe what was just put in front of us. Most of the material had not seen the light of day for a long long time.
We had developed a broad idea of what Jim’s life was like, of what the various chapters were. As we continued our study and research we began to see and feel that there was more to the story than just Jim’s art resume’ and condensed time line. We had some critical questions for which we simply could not find answers. But, now it appeared that just maybe some of the mystery and detail of Jim’s life might lie somewhere in these four plastic tubs.
At first it was overwhelming. We started going through the scads of material making stacks and stacks of papers and photographs trying not to get too taken in by various what looked to be something that was significant. By the middle of the next day, the richness of Jim’s began to reveal itself. Details that fleshed out particular chapters and new details that opened our mind and eyes to new realities presented themselves.
Wednesday night dinner with Wade and Diane at the Kibitzer was great fun. Julie and I had perch in memory of Tom Kuebler. On a earlier trip when we had lunch at the Kibitzer with Tom I shared some of my perch with him. He hadn’t had perch for a long time. From that day forward Tom and I had discussed various locations in Michigan where he could find a good perch dinner. And once I called him to tell him the grocery store closest to him had perch on sale. I always hoped that one day Tom and I would be able to eat perch together at Phil’s in Saugatuck. But it is not to be.
The conversation at the Kibitzer led to Jim and his return to Kewanna from New York City. It was interesting to get both Diane’s and Wade’s perspectives and insight. One thing that was brought up by Wade that night was the fact that every year after Jim’s mother passed away he sent money back to Kewanna so, on her birthday, a dozen roses could be placed on her grave.
After dinner we walked across the street to Diane’s studio to look at a couple of things. As I was waiting for the door to be unlocked I was looking into the dark night weighing over Kewanna. Suddenly, right where I was looking, a shooting star flashed across the sky just above the horizon. At first I was a bit startled, but then a smile came across my face.