Writing the History of the Artist, James Spencer Russell

The History of the Artist, James Spencer Russell

Update, 12/10/2013:  After more and more edits, rewrites and proofreads, the manuscript is finally complete.

As a part of organizing and working on the Indiana State Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Style, Elegance and Wit:  The Artwork of James Spencer Russell, Satch and I volunteered to do the necessary research and write the history of James Spencer Russell (Jim) and his art.

To say that we are passionate about Jim’s work is quite an understatement.  From the first minute we laid eyes on his artwork at Denis Jackson’s auction house back in 2006 we felt that there was something special about the work and the person that made it.

This feeling is what led a small group to work to get a museum exhibition of Jim’s work.

Over the last two and a half years Satch and I have been digging into Jim’s life.  We really didn’t know what to expect.  Sure, we knew the narrative that had been written wrapping up Jim’s life into a neat little academic package.  But looking at Jim’s work and getting a peak at his archive, we felt that there was more to the story and we had many more questions than answers.  Previous posts (here, here and here) delve into our trips to Kewanna and digging into Jim’s archive, so I won’t rehash that process.

James Russell Life Scroll by Satch

When we realized what a incredibly rich life Jim had lived, Satch and I began to get overwhelmed with all of Jim’s notes, life events, exhibits and the details of the story that were unfolding in front of our eyes.  Satch had the idea of making a timeline.  She put together a scroll that illustrated Jim’s life journey.  The scroll enabled us to more critically analyze and think about Jim’s life within the context of time and history.  It also allowed us to ask deeper and more critical questions that eventually led us to, what we believe, is the most complete understanding of Jim’s life that we could possibly achieve.  From the scroll and this understanding I was able to develop a path to an outline and subsequently write Jim’s history.

After months of writing and editing, the draft of The History of the Artist, James Spencer Russell, was completed on February 18, 2013.  We are still working on a preface and a possible introduction and ending that would be an homage to Jim’s life through the filter of James Joyce’s, Finnegans Wake, one of Jim’s greatest inspirations.  When I say “we” I am speaking of Dr. Karen Bruner Stroup and me.  Karen has been a critical part of making Jim’s story come to life.  As my editor she has been invaluable and she deserves all of the thanks that I can give her.

This has been a rewarding experience.  Satch and I look forward to working with the Indiana State Museum on the design of the book, that is sure to be an important addition to Indiana’s library of extraordinary artists.

James Russell/Paul Horgan Archive

Postscript:  The original plan for developing and writing the history of James Spencer Russell was to include Satch, Dr. Thomas Kuebler and me.  Without Tom blazing the trail for us in Kewanna we would never had the ease of contact with those that were critical to making all of this possible.  Only days before he passed away Satch and I had spent several hours with him going over piles of archive material and discussing what it all meant.

We are sad that Tom was not able to help us through this process.  We endeavored to do the best job that we could that would have pleased Tom and met his high standards, when it came to anything art.  The History of the Artist, James Spencer Russell is written in memory of Tom.

2 comments

  1. Ron, great updates and information since we spoke and emailed last. Sorry to hear about Tom Kuebler.

  2. Mark Ruschman

    Another great entry, thank you for all your hard work. I’ll see you tomorrow in Logansport for our next adventure in uncovering works by JSR.

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