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Larger than life
A monument of another kind - a horse, not an archipelago - has thrust San Juan Island sculptor and painter Jocelyn Russell into the kind of national recognition previously bestowed upon American western-life artists Charles Russell and Frederick Remington.
The unveiling and dedication of Staff Sargent Reckless on the grounds of the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Marine Base Quantico on July 26 also marked a day of national recognition for Russell.
The entire dedication, at which Russell spoke, was broadcast on CSPAN; Martha Raddatz of ABC News interviewed her and CBS News featured Reckless and Russell in a video. Dozens of national press photogs and several hundred visitors captured her image and sent it across America to newspapers and private homes.
It was quite a coming out party for a woman who says, “I don’t want to do anything else, never did. I love what I’m doing.”
Russell, who is not related to artist Charles Russell, has loved doing art since she was two years old, in her painter mother’s studio in Alamoso, Colorado. She sold her first painting (a horse head) at age 12 and decided she would be an artist about the same time.
Her first art teacher, who was also the high school football coach, tried to tell her she could never make a living as an artist. She was unfazed, flunked that first art class (“I don’t like anybody telling me to do or not do anything,” she says) and kept painting, supporting herself working as a veterinarian’s assistant two days a week all through high school and beyond, until her paintings and sculptures started to sell.
She credits her parents and the “wisdom and techniques of watercolorist Stephen Quiller” for help, encouragement and inspiration. She moved from painting to sculpting in 1992, at about age 30.
She moved to Friday Harbor in 2001, soon after meeting welder and islander Michael Dubail at a show in Seattle. She says she fell in love with him when he gave her a finely welded and finely finished example of his skill. Russell says Dubail is “wonderful” and his welding and finishing integral to her work.
She’s not fond of the business side of art, but she does it - ordering materials, negotiating contracts, scheduling shows. Often first thing in the morning, then across the yard to the studio.
Russell and Dubail share side-by-side purpose-built studios (his looks more like a factory), with lots of space, a large covered porch on the side, and a live-in rat killer - a trait Russell wishes would stop. Russell says she sometimes will work ten or twelve hours in a row, “loving it” that Dubail brings her meals and stokes the wood stove into the evening.
She continues to paint, but focuses on bronzes. She has completed a dozen life-size or larger monumental sculptures and over a hundred small bronzes, including miniatures of the monuments. The small pieces and prints of her paintings are made in multiples and sold at shows and exhibits, often sponsored by outdoors and naturalist groups. All of them, even the paintings, look “alive” - some in action with muscles bulging and tails flying, some quiet, attentive, intelligent. Two new monuments, including a full-size buffalo and a horsebacked Indian about to spear the beast, are in the works.
This isn’t just an artist at work, it’s a woman who’s doing what she wants - happy with Dubail, happy creating her own monuments. She an expressive, centered, relaxed dynamo who’s now established - and who knows her work will long outlive her.
For more photos of paintings and sculptures, check out Jocelyn Russell’s website, wildlifebronzes.com.