As previously mentioned on our recent trip to Kewanna Wade Bussert provided Satch and I with a wealth of material to go through. We felt that recreating as best as we could what James Spencer Russell’s life’s journey was all about is what really needed to happen so we could better understand his art and him as a person. As we examined scads of documents and photographs we began to piece together an understanding of the man and artist. We brought along our little percolator so we could keep a warm cup of coffee close by while delving into Jim’s life via this archive that was provided to us.
Jim’s life was a journey that started at a very young age. It was a journey where he found himself in some very heady situations and with many talented and important people. And he made art that was, as we keep hearing from several people, that was as good as anybody that was working at the time he was actively producing and showing his art in New York City and other cities. The list of artists at this time is more than impressive – Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Cornell, etc. Yet Jim never sought the spotlight and eventually left New York City and came back to Kewanna to live out his days.
We spent our second and third days combing through piles of stuff, making notes and photographs. Thanks to Wade we had at our fingertips the resources that we needed. Just some of the things that we found were details of Jim’s exhibits via promotional cards and press releases as well as exhibits that he attended, photographs of his outfit returning from the war, letters to his mother from all eras, a gallery contract with Ruth White, photographs from various times in Jim’s life, family historical documents and on and on. We were able to fill many holes and answer many questions about Jim’s life.
Now we get to the real fount of knowledge, Wade Bussert himself. Wade was a very close friend of Jim’s and knew Jim’s family for all of his life. Wade’s family was one of the original settlers of Kewanna. Jim moved to Kewanna around the time that Wade was graduating high school. I can only imagine what how Wade’s life was impacted by Jim moving to Kewanna. Wade is a fine artist in his own right.
Satch and I had prepared a series of questions to ask Wade in a casual interview type setting. The great thing about Wade is that he is so giving to all of our efforts to tell Jim’s story. His answers to our questions are always full of information and colorful recounts of Jim’s life, previous and in Kewanna. Over that last several years the time that Wade has spent with all of us working on this exhibition has been pretty incredible. He always makes himself available and always has excellent and vital information. He’s provided us with an invaluable perspective on Jim’s life and his art.
As previously mentioned we were able to do all of this work in Diane Tesler’s studio, which was absolutely perfect. Great light, plenty of workspace and a Tom Waits CD along with a ton of classical and opera was all we needed. She and Wade really made us feel at home.
On our second night Diane invited us over to her house for dinner. We showed up to have a little happy hour with Wade and Diane before dinner. As we went into Diane’s house the smell of Indian food drew us in. She had no less than six burners going on two stoves, I swear. It was amazing. The awesome Indian food with plenty of wine and a little beer provided for an incredible evening of feasting and storytelling. We had so many laughs that I couldn’t begin to count them. Diane is an wonderful host and chef.
That night Fall rolled in. We had a windy day with temperatures in the 60’s. Walking back to the bungalow the sky was an eerie gray with low clouds that seem to be lit from somewhere unknown. It was one of the strangest skies I had ever seen. After we got “home” while we reviewed the day’s events and tied up some loose ends we watched the temperature drop to 40 degrees F via the time and temperature display on the bank across the street.
Up early the next morning we fixed a little breakfast and walked back to Diane’s studio now in the cold cold wind. After several hours and a carry out lunch from the Kibitzer we were able to wrap up our research.
Satch wanted to go to Jim’s grave. Wade agreed to go with us. Satch wanted to do a grave rubbing or two. Wade helped find paper and pencils in Diane’s studio and Satch had brought along some materials too.
We had never been out to Jim’s grave. He is quite an inspiration to Satch and her art so this was more of an emotional trip than we had thought it might be. Satch and Wade diligently tried to get a good rubbing in the cold windy weather, but it wasn’t working out too well. They gave it a good try and Wade agreed to try again on a better day. We did leave a drawing pencil for Jim.