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by Carreen Schroeder
Some artists find inspiration in the bond they share with family and friends. Some draw on moments of solitude while others derive inspiration from the beauty in natural settings. Robert Russell's artistic expression is an awareness of all of these forces and one more - a positive outlook on life.
Born in Corning, New York, Russell did not envision himself as an artist until he was in college. "I was a typical guy in high school who went to woodshop and all the shop classes and never touched a camera until I went to college," he said.
In his first year at Alfred State College, Russell enrolled in Audio and Video Technology, but was told one of the prerequisites was Photography 101. Reluctantly, he enrolled in the class. By the end of October of his freshman year, he bought his first camera, by Christmas he bought his first additional lens, by Easter, he bought his first flash and in his words, "I then dove right into it. I never went anywhere without a camera." Photography has been central to Russell's artistic expression ever since this humble beginning in 1978.
A true family man, Russell has raised five children, two of whom are also in the arts. His son, Christopher, is an actor who also does technical work and set construction and his eldest daughter, Laurice, is the customer service manager at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. When asked to describe how his children feel about his art, Russell's humor was immediately evident, "My kids hate me! I'm always taking pictures of them! They say, 'dad, put the camera away!' " he said chuckling. Russell's wife, Lori, added that there are boxes and boxes of family photographs and that the children adore their father. "He's always the first one they call," she stated with a smile. She went on to say that they have a close family bond and share a lot of time together.
Russell's family is not just present in his daily life but has become actively involved in helping him organize Moving Day - an annual event to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson's disease research. In 2005, Russell was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson's disease and, almost a decade later, he continues to carry himself with dignity and a strong positive attitude when he speaks of the challenges that he faces.
In 2011, Russell retired from the Lewiston Porter School District after a combined 26 years as the media associate and stage manager and that same year, he and his family became actively involved in helping organize the City of Buffalo's Moving Day event held at Coca-Cola Field and sponsored by the National Parkinson Foundation, WNY Chapter. For the past three years, Russell has been in charge of the sound system for the event. He also photographs and videos the entire day. Russell has produced several informational videos published on YouTube to promote awareness and funds in the continued research to end Parkinson's disease. Russell's motto - "We must stay active and proactive to fight this disease."
Nothing slows Russell down. His art opening took place Thursday at The Mug and Musket in Youngstown and is open to the public throughout the month of December. Several of Russell's color, and black and white photograph collection will be on display and available for purchase, from local sunsets, sailboats and tall ships to photographs of the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone and even photographs capturing the landscape of China - a memorable trip he took with Lewiston-Porter High School in 2008. When asked what his art has meant to him over the years, Russell stated without hesitation, "I want people to see the world like I see it. You can look at a sunset all you want, but the camera captures the feelings, the colors."
Russell would like to thank Michael Townsend, a retired photography teacher from Lewiston-Porter High School, for not only helping hang all of his photography for the show, but for supporting his artistic endeavors over the years. He would also like to thank Paul Thomas, a local artist and friend, as well as the art teachers at Lewiston-Porter High School who all helped Russell prepare for his art opening.
When asked to share parting words on his philosophy of life and living, Russell said, "Live life to the fullest. Have fun and always have a good sense of humor."
Russell can be reached at [email protected]. The Mug and Musket is located at 418 Main St. For more information, call 716-745-9938.