Since he was a kid, Stephen Russ had an interest in art. For the past 30 years, Stephen Russ, of Tonawanda has been capturing the beauty of Western New York on paper with pencils. He is a graphite artist. He says in high school he wanted to be an architect. He loved designing buildings and things like that, but he said he wasn’t very good in math. When Steve was in college, he found a way to marry his love of drawing and architecture by creating art of the local landmarks and architecture we know and love. He says he got real interested in Buffalo history and at that time he was going out with his wife Kathy and she lived over in the Broadway area and he got interested in that area. Those drawings quickly multiplied. Some of his favorites are Our Lady of Victory National Shire and Basilica the Ellicott Square building and the Central Terminal. He sells his prints of his drawings on his website and he also does commissioned pieces. That’s how we found Stephen Russ. The executive producer of AM Buffalo bought one of Stephen’s prints of St. Louis’ church for a gift for a friend, in an effort to support small businesses in the pandemic. We wanted to find out more about the artist behind this beautiful artwork.
When we found Stephen Russ, he said it has almost been a year since he wanted to pick up his pencils and at one point considered giving up drawing. Russ says he was not in a good place. It was one year ago, on April 4, 2020, he lost his wife of 32 years to COVID 19. A loving wife and grandmother, Kathy Phillips Russ was a celebrated educator and administrator in Western New York. Like so many who lost a loved one to COVID19, Stephen last saw his wife the day he dropped her off at the hospital. He says, he can finally say, without breaking down, he gave her a pat on the back and told her everything was going to be okay and he turned around and walked out. A week later he got a call from the hospital. He says he had a feeling he was never going to see her again. He goes on to say they called him Saturday night and said they couldn’t find a pulse and her heart stopped. They were trying to revive her, but they said it didn’t look good. They called him back fifteen minutes later and told him she had passed. He says he was alone in the house; his kids don’t live at home anymore. It was just him and his dog. He immediately had to quarantine for two weeks. The months after this experience left Stephen in a mental and emotional tailspin. Stephen Russ says he was lucky enough to have great support from family, friends and great neighbors. They helped but he says he got depressed not only because his wife passed away unexpectedly, but also because he couldn’t be with anybody and nobody could be with him because of the whole COVID thing.
Stephen admits he lost interest in what he used to love which is why he questioned whether he would ever pick up a pencil to draw again. He says he just didn’t feel like doing anything, he had no motivation to draw. He says he tried to a couple of times, but he says he couldn’t do it. He says he sat the pencils down again and didn’t pick them up until he started hearing from us. AM Buffalo started calling Stephen to ask about his drawings just days before the painful one-year anniversary of his wife’s death which fell on April 4th, Easter Sunday. Stephen admits he was not he had not been able to talk about his experience for many months, but he viewed this interview opportunity as a turning point. Stephen Russ says he go all enthused again and started drawing again. He feels it is the influence of his wife watching over him. He says he is not an overly religious person, but he is somewhat of a practicing catholic. He goes on to say there are times when he feels like she is here with him and he thinks she would be pissed if he stopped drawing because of her.
As an artist he loves perspective. He takes a lot of pictures of buildings before he ever sets to drawing them and now he looks at life like that, which can be helpful for all of us integrating all the new perspectives and experiences we know have and creating something new and beautiful. He says be nice to people and appreciate what you have.