KSJD | By Clark Adomaitis
In his home studio in Ignacio, Colorado, Russell Box Sr.’s art covers the walls of his workspace. They’re brightly colored acrylic works featuring animals, nature, and symbolism related to the Creator and tribal ceremonies.
Box has doodled since childhood, but he started making art regularly while attending boarding school in Santa Fe.
“The art teacher was a native person. I want to go into realistic painting. She said, ‘There's a lot of realistic painters out there. If I were you, I would be thinking of doing a different type of painting, something that would be your own style,’” Box reminisced on his boarding school days.
Box sold his first painting, ‘Hunting,’ in 1950. ‘Hunting’ is the earliest of his paintings displayed at the current exhibit. He sold it in 1950 when he was 17 years old. The work depicts a Native American hunter pointing a bow and arrow at two blue deer. The animals are drinking from a river.
Many of Box’s paintings depict animals symbolically to show relationships between people, nature, and the Creator. One of the paintings at the Southern Ute Museum is called “Respect the Creator.”
“The blue background is the spirit world,” Box said, “the red circle is the earth, and one side of the hair is loose. It represents the freedom of the spirit. And also, one side of the person has a tie, which represents that he's bound to the Mother Earth.”
After he graduated from the Santa Fe Indian School in 1954, Box served in the military for six years. In the 1960s, he returned to Ignacio and worked for the Southern Ute tribe as a Maintenance supervisor.
“After I got married, that's when I started really painting, and I was using the kitchen table as a place to paint. But my wife would say, ‘You have to clean that table,’ because she was preparing to feed us. So I decided to make a studio.”
Box’s wife pushed him to get his art out into the world.
“My art was very personal to me. A lot of things that I had painted was really coming from my spirit or things that had happened to me. The majority of my paintings started collecting on the walls of my home. My wife said, ‘What are you going to do with all the paintings?’ Later on, I decided I had to start selling my paintings.”
His children were also an essential part of his artistic life.
“My children were the critics. They were around maybe 10, 11 years old. My daughter was looking at it, and she said, there's a woman there. I didn't see that when I was painting it. And she showed me where it was,” Box said.
Although he never made a living off of selling his art, painting has been a creative outlet throughout his life. Now, his house is full of his art, and the Southern Ute Museum has recognized a lifetime of work.
“I was very honored. You might say my work has been accomplished,” said Box.
Thirty-three of Russell Box Sr.’s paintings will be displayed at the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum through December. The exhibit displays his art chronologically, and the viewer can experience the different stages of Box’s life.
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