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Shirley Russell


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Shirley Russell was a popular American artist, best known for her paintings of Hawaii and her still lifes of Hawaiian flowers. She lived in Honolulu for most of her life, working for more than 20 years as an art teacher at McKinley High School. During the 1930's, Russell was in contact with the Japanese publisher Watanabe Shozaburo. Around 1935 to 1936, Watanabe published several woodblock prints based on Russell's work. The majority of these prints depict colorful and detailed tropical flowers, while at least one print, Carmel Mission, is a California landscape.

Shirley Ximena Hopper was born in Del Rey, California, in 1886. She graduated in 1907 from Stanford University, where she discovered art. She married Lawrence Russell, an engineer, in 1909. When he died in 1912, she began teaching in Palo Alto, and dabbling in painting. In 1921, at the urging of friends, she and her son came to Hawaii for a visit. This was in the days of extended holidays, when those who could afford to travel for pleasure could afford to stay for weeks or even months. For Russell, the trip became a 70-year romance.

"It was a charming place to be," she told a 1980 interviewer, speaking of Honolulu in the 1920s. "It was nicer, very simple. There was a lot of green grass everywhere... I met people who were interested in art and became a part of the group." Indeed she did, studying under renowned marine artist Lionel Walden during the 1920s and traveling to Europe several times to study. She would spend as much as two years at a time away from Hawaii, painting, making long visits to friends, absorbing culture. Russell studied in Paris during the 1930s and the cubist influence can be seen in a number of her works, though these might not be the best known.

In the course of her art career, Russell had three one-woman exhibitions at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, launched many Hawaiian artists on their careers when they were her students at McKinley and taught at the University of Hawaii and the Academy of Arts. Despite painting primarily in representational style herself, she was a staunch supporter of what was then called modern art. A 1949 Honolulu Advertiser article has her lecturing the American Pen Women Club in defense of abstract art. Russell's Japanese woodblock prints make up only a small part of her prolific art career. She produced hundreds of canvases during her lifetime and continued to paint almost daily until her death in Honolulu in 1985, at the age of 98.

This biography of Shirley Russell was excerpted from the Honolulu Advertiser.

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