GAIL RUSSELL CAPTURES THE LIGHT, LIFE AND SPIRIT OF THE SOUTHWEST
by Dena Miller
TRUE GRACE IS INNATE,
and when you come across someone in whom its authenticity shines, you immediately recognize it.
Such is the case when you first meet Gail Russell, whose gentle eyes and welcoming smile greet you at the door of her studio filled with a life’s work of inspiration and enlightenment.
Known for her evocative photographic art, Russell has spent decades capturing “images of light, life and the spirit of the Southwest.” Her award winning imagery is never static; instead,
it is meant,” she said, “to create questions and ideas, like any visual art should, and continually provide a fresh glimpse into the world.”
“Over the years my artwork has been a connecting energy in communicating things that are imaportant to me,” explained Russell. “I’m grateful for those who have resonated with my workand those I’ve met along the way who have inspired me.”
Much of the inspiration has come from her long and intimate association with Native American elders who embody, to her, the interrelation of spirit and nature.
Dance of Peace • PHOTOGRAPH BY GAIL RUSSELL
The grandparents I knew grew up in the mid 1800s; they didn’t grow up with the modern world. So the elders who are still with us learned how to live off the land and, in turn, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from them.” she mused.
Russell co-founded the “Adopt a Grandparent” program on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, working alongside Lakota Sioux elder Nellie Red Owl and administering the program for almost two decades. It became her mission while attending a business conference in nearby Rapid City, where she heard of three elders who had frozen to death in what is one of this country’s largest and poorest reservations.
“It was in February and it was freezing cold,”Russell recalled. Compelled to help, “I started collecting clothing and blankets, and gift certificates for things like food, gas and propane. We made a huge difference over the years,” asas she continued the charitable work from its small office in Taos and expanded to include members of Taos Pueblo.
Russell has actively continued her philanthropic pursuits, including remaining close to and working with members of the pueblo. Adopt-A-Native-Elder, based in Park City, Utah, is also a beneficiary of her generosity, as is the school lunch/Growing Community Now programs of Farmhouse Cafe and Bakery in El Prado. “I gift a portion of the proceeds of my sales to them,” she noted.
Of her childhood in “backwoods Connecticut,” Russell said, “I knew as early as 6 years old that I was in the wrong place.” Her academic studies in printmaking and graphic design gave way to photography and, yearslater, her move from the East Coast to Taos set her on the path she was meant to follow.
From behind her camera – her “companion for life” – she has captured the best of Taos:
its heritage; its cultural diversity; its natural magnificence
Her works have led to a series of breakthrough exhibitions, including “Tribal Heart,” capturing images of Native American life and culture, and “Floating world,” “designed to give your mind a vacation.”
Most recently Russell has been at work developing four end-table books sharing the photography from those exhibitions, as well as successfully delving into the fashion world with an array of “Gazelle” scarves featuring her photgraphs on fabric, “Kangaroo Girls” pocket scarves and her trademarked “SallyGators” leg warmers.
“My SallyGators were inspired by one of my favorite Native artists, T.C. Cannon, called Grandmother Gestating Father and the Washita River Runs Ribbon-Like.” Available in different styles and fabrics, these and her scarves were featured in the 2019 Big Brothers Big Sisters Mountain Region annual fashion show. And, not surprizingly, proceeds benefitted the nonprofit organization.
Personal eveolution and growth is a tenet of Russell’s life but she is quick to credit the support she has received from a group of close associates.
Our team includes Ginger Pizzuro, intuitive guide, Janaki Rathod, web designer, Signe Nichols, social media guru; Mark Griffith, business advisor; and Kali Little, muralist and all-around right hand person.”
“I surprise myself being on the north side of 80, that I am still active in my field and either behind a camera or in front of my computer almost every day.”
“I’m grateful to be here in this beautiful place: this land, our mountains and the water that springs forth from them. If this beauty is to continue and flourish, she needs all of our help. To nourish, care for, and respect our unique surroundings,” Russell concluded.