Two Dueñas. c. 1960. Watercolor and gouache. 13 x 17 (frame 21 x 25). Signed and annotated 'SPAIN' lower right. Housed in a 21 x 25-inch black wood frame.
Donn Russell is one of Nantucket Island's most acclaimed artists. The painter / printer / sculptor was born in 1929 in Braintree, Mass. of an art-minded family. His talent for drawing and painting was recognized early and while still a teenager, he enrolled in the Boston Museum of Art School on scholarship. Subsequently he enrolled in Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, later studying at The School of Visual Arts, and finally The Art Students League, NYC.
At first he majored solely in painting, and had early success in winning top awards at the National Academy in New York City and the Hartford Atheneum and Silvermine Arts Center in Connecticut. He became a regular member of the "Waverly Gallery" stable of artists on Washington Square in Greenwich Village where he now lived. (The gallery owner Mildred Milch's grandson, the award-winning playwright Kenneth Lonergan wrote the Broadway play Waverly Gallery in 1999 to honor her, with Estelle Parsons playing her role. Another character was 'Don', a mediocre artist and arriviste from Boston trying to muscle in on the territory. The writer swore it was not based on reality but few were convinced.) Russell also took to displaying his watercolors on the wrought iron fences around the Square during the annual spring and fall outdoor art exhibits, winning honors and, better, cash awards. From that exposure, his work was discovered by the publishing firm of I.B.Fischer and reproduced widely.
Failing eyesight and the loss of his lifetime partner Arthur Schaefer (at 101), led Russell to close his Nantucket studio and gallery, and retire permanently back to his Greenwich Village quarters in New York City in 2014. No longer able to paint or print, he returned full time to his theater foundation directing. In 2015 he closed out 50 years of that and set up his own philanthropic fund that embraced a broader range of activities to sponsor, on subjects that had interested him all his life: music (especially opera), innovative theater awards. the visual arts (especially painting and printmaking), garden creation, and, of course, as before, developmental theater in all its aspects, now including scenic design and lighting. In the fall and winter of 2015-16 he was the honoree at four major theater and dance galas, and had a music performance space named for him at Mannes College of Music in Manhattan. On Nantucket Island a new visual arts wing of the Artists Association carried his name as well.