Gail Russell's new digs

Photo artist Gail Russell Courtesy photo

Photo artist Gail Russell was dragged mumbling and grumbling to look at a house for sale in Arroyo Hondo in 1976.

She was heading back out of Taos for a magazine shoot and none too happy about this last-minute delay, but as soon as she stepped into the kitchen, she was hooked.

"It held me hostage," she said fondly, remembering subsequent decades in her home-studio, which she christened Mountain Light: enjoying her fruit trees, being ditch commissioner, starting her Adoptive Grandparent Program; working with Taos Pueblo and Pine Ridge, Minnesota tribal women, being at Las Comadres Gallery for 10 years, creating the Kangaroo Scarves With Pockets and now SallyGators, and, finally, having a new studio gallery to display only her own work.

"This is the first space I've had all to myself," she said last week, eyes bright, gesturing to the walls and hallway hung with her prints. She's having a studio open house and SallyGators launch party Saturday (April 21), from 1-5 p.m., at North Star Plaza in El Prado. Her small business owner neighbors: Taos Sage Realtor Alicia Bomhoff, and Chiropractice owners Margaret Hanson and Karen Zakar will also be welcoming guests at North Star Plaza's open house.

Noting that her artistic heroes are Cartier Bresson, Edward S. Curtis and Georgia O'Keeffe, Russell has hung the new studio with botanicals for spring. She has nearly 50 years of photography in the new space, however. That work will figure in her plans for a retrospective project incorporating a series of monographs and a retrospective show.

Russell is famous for her photographic assemblages that key up spiritual elements of imagery she is focusing upon.

"I'm attracted to making images that have some type of positive or uplifting quality, or seeing something in a different light," she said, adding, "Especially these days, we need art to uplift us and give us some hope."

She also notes, with a laugh, that most photographers "are great at going backward very fast!" She is referring to spying an image while driving and slamming into reverse to grab the shot now a couple miles back, but always, she manipulates the imagery at a minimum and with integrity.

"I want my images strong enough to stand on their own, so they're not just some decorative mind game," she said.

Curious as to which work she was promoting at this new gallery opening - her fine photo art or the textiles - she said, "Both! Parallel to my photo art, sewing has always been soothing to me. Handling the fabric has always been a meditative feeling for me."

Her "Kangaroo Scarves With Pockets" are produced by the local community-oriented cottage industry founded in 2008 that features Russell and Crucita Mondragón, "an incredible seamstress of Taos Pueblo," among others, Russell said. Their prime motivation for the Kangaroo Scarf is, "one can never have enough pockets," hence the shawl-like scarves in multiple fabrics with two patchwork pockets at each end to hold anything from pens to phones or paperbacks.

Similarly, Russell designs the SallyGator prototypes, Mondragon sews them and the finished products are completed by a "wonderful sewing contractor who sews for North Face [sportswear] in Provo, Utah."

SallyGators, dubbed "A New Twist To An Old Style Tradition," are the result of her wearing skirts, even in winter, which brought to mind the warmth and beauty of Taos Pueblo women's leggings. Recalling the gator was also standard issue for the British military in India, and as common gear for hunters, it fired her imagination.

"Inspired by traditional Native American women's 'leggings,' SallyGators are fashionable leg garments for women," her website states, "Button them up or pull them on like socks! Protective, warm, leggings to the knee, they are a good look with skirts and tights as well."

SallyGators are printed, 100-percent cotton, with fleece and cotton-quilted linings. Sustainability is a major focus, and a portion of SallyGators and Kangaroo Scarf earnings go to nonprofit programs benefiting local youth and elders.

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