Wednesday, March 12, 2014
WOOLWICH — By all accounts, Clifford Russell had remarkable artistic vision.
Soon after World War II, the Woolwich man began making jewelry, and over the years, he developed a line of handmade sterling silver jewelry that elegantly evoked the coast of Maine.
His jewelry featured such motifs as lobster claws, lighthouses, blueberries, kelp, sea glass and even lobster shacks.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Portland-based collector David Johanson will exhibit about 100 pieces of Russell sterling silver jewelry at the Woolwich Historical Society, at the corner of Route 1 and Nequasset Road. The historical society is just down the road from Russell's former home and studio.
Johanson has been collecting Russell jewelry for a dozen years. ''The first piece I bought was a bumblebee pin with tiger eyes. I thought it was nice and started collecting it,'' he said.
Russell, who died in 1975, sold his pieces at the Smiling Cow Gift Shop in Boothbay Harbor and at Sebasco Lodge in Phippsburg and directly from his studio just off Route 1.
''I think the thing that is most impressive to me is that he was completely self-taught,'' said Johanson. ''The degree of detail in his work is incredible.''
Before making his career in jewelry, Russell was involved in the arts. A Maine native, he studied art in Boston and worked professionally as a display artist, creating furniture displays in stores in New York and New Jersey. During the war, he returned to Maine and worked at the Hyde Windlass Co. in Bath, as a designer and painter.
He got the idea for jewelry making when he observed huge scraps of iron, left over from the war effort. From that scrap iron, he made tools. After work, he used those tools to experiment with copper, and eventually found his way to silver.
He and his wife, Thelma, designed the jewelry together. She died in 1991.
Their work became popular with tourists, and it came to represent Maine to out-of-state guests. They were written up in several national publications over the years.
Every few years, Johanson puts his collection on display in Russell's hometown. The exhibition gives him an opportunity to meet other collectors.
''There are a lot of people out there with Russell silver,'' Johanson said. ''A lot of people have six, seven or 10 pieces in their collection. I do this just for fun. It's a chance to meet the people who knew him, and talk to them about him. You always learn a new tidbit every time you do something like this.''
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:
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