Artisan: Steady Flow 

A former millwright foreman finds pleasure in his midlife pursuit.

The next project follows quickly — perhaps a wavy metal floor lamp with a dome-shaped shade, or an elaborate mirror or fireplace surround made of copper and brass. He professes being in a state of continual excitement about creating things he's never seen before and of toiling into the night when an idea catches fire.

That he began his artistic life in his 40s, following a demanding career as a millwright foreman, may explain the absence of chaos and uncertainty in his approach. "That was my industrial education, using torches and working with steel," he says. "It was a long haul to get to this point. Now I've reached where I want to be in life. I like the work of an artisan, that in a city this size there is a market for a single sole proprietor doing one piece at a time."

When he looks at his work, he sees functionality first, a prerequisite for anything that he builds. Next comes an awareness of the materials, the welds, and the engineering that demand a table stand level or a surface support weight. Finishes must be smooth to the hand, finely buffed or lacquered. His metalwork leaves the rough-textured grittiness or industrial aesthetic to others; Russell's pieces run toward a sophisticated contemporary style, with details such as marble or fused glass adding a subtle dimension of color to the earth-toned materials.

Russell credits metal artist Maurice Beane and the Hand Workshop (now the Visual Arts Center) with steering his emerging artistic drive into daily practice a dozen years ago. Otherwise, the lifelong Richmond resident is self-taught, and he's recently added another skill to his repertoire by installing a kiln in the studio to fuse his own glass tabletops.

The studio itself is new, part of a multiyear hiatus in which Russell planned and built a Craftsman-style bungalow, horse barn and workshop on a 20-acre spread. Here the artist can focus on a wide horizon and shapely tree line while the ideas come tumbling out of his imagination. Each piece emerges with inherent longevity, so impervious are the materials to the effects of time.

This, he says, is the payoff for a midlife detour into an unexpected realm.




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