Our book, Style, Elegance and Wit: Rediscovering the Life and Art of James Spencer Russell, has gone through its final edit and is being designed. We are publishing a small trade version as a preview copy for those working on the exhibition. The cover for that book is shown below.
To give a little taste of the book Satch and I have decided to publish, here on the blog/website, the preface to the book. Enjoy.
Most of the Indianapolis crowd was gone by the time the tables and boxes of art were brought out for bid by Dennis Jackson in the last hours of a day-long auction one weekend in 2006. The artwork of James Spencer Russell was up for sale.
Even if no one there that day knew who James Spencer Russell was, his art, there in boxes and out on an auction’s tables in Indianapolis for bid, spoke loudly and clearly for him. The disbelief and wonder of discovery of art so extraordinary that day sparked curiosity to know more and inspired a commitment of hundreds of volunteer hours by several lovers of art for over eight years to produce this book and a retrospective exhibition at the Indiana State Museum. My goal is to bring James Spencer Russell, a Hoosier native-son, from behind the curtain to center stage for well-deserved recognition as one of Indiana’s most versatile and accomplished modern artists.
Russell told friends that he created art for no one but himself. As we continued to peel away at the many layers of his accomplishment, we discovered that Russell defined art in so many ways and drew his inspiration from so many people and so many mediums that the quality and breadth of his work was nothing short of remarkable.
“Style, elegance, and wit” were words he wrote on a scrap of paper that were in personal files made available to us by his friend, Wade Bussert, in his hometown of Kewanna, Indiana. While Russell believed his art to contain all three of these elements, we can also think that he was describing himself with this phrase that seems to capture the essence of this reserved Hoosier gentleman.
With uncanny consistency throughout his life, Russell was quietly present in the room somewhere when something great was happening or about to happen in the world of art, music, or literature. He kept company and exhibited with many of the leading artists of his time who went on to great national and international acclaim.
Could James Spencer Russell have nudged many of the celebrated artists of his time out of the limelight and assumed a role that could have been his, as one of our nation’s finest artists? We will never know. Becoming a celebrity of the art world and a creature of pop culture and self-promotion was not his road. Russell chose instead to live for his art and let his art speak for him.
Perhaps it was the nature of the man himself to quietly remain dedicated to his work to create art. His style, as we have discovered, was not to be out front and to call attention to himself. He remained in the background, quiet, always understated, an epitome of elegance. Russell’s wit, like the man, was subtle, the kind of wit likely to be conveyed and appreciated with a friend or friends in intimate circles in the wee hours at a jazz club or at an all-night restaurant.
Russell began his life in Monticello, Indiana and closed out his life in Kewanna, Indiana (Kewanna is a small town in Fulton County of about 600 people per the latest census). In Kewanna, he was understood only by a few friends who knew how exceptional and remarkable he was. Yet, he continued to create with all the resources available to him and galleries continued to come to pick up his work to put on exhibit.
He also found solace and comfort in Kewanna by being able to be close to the memories and spirit of his mother, the only person who may well have understood the great promise and temperament of her youngest son. And it was in Kewanna that Russell passed away and would have been forever lost and forgotten, had it not been for the happenstance of his art being on display in the late hours of a series of auctions in Indianapolis.
What has driven the lovers of art who have produced this book is the dream to see a Hoosier native son gain his rightful place of regard and recognition as one of Indiana’s finest. His style, elegance and wit is the stuff characteristic of an exceptional Hoosier gentleman whose breadth of artistic expression is an extraordinary contribution by a Hoosier to our nation’s collective of important artworks.
James Spencer Russell was known to his friends, family and colleagues simply as “Jim,” which makes sense as he was a modest man that never called attention to himself. Therefore, in that spirit, throughout this book, I have consciously made the decision to refer to James Spencer Russell as “Jim.”
Copyright ©2013 by Ron Kern. All rights reserved.
Research: Julie Kern and Ron Kern
Editing Support: Karen Bruner Stroup, Ph.D.
Published by Open Sky Enterprises, Inc.
This book contains copyrighted material, trademarks and other proprietary information, including, but not limited to, text, photos and graphics, and the entire contents are copyrighted as a collective work under the United States copyright laws. Users of this book shall not publish and/or distribute without written permission such material (in whole or in part) and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or hereafter developed.