The Russell Museum, featuring the works of Walter Russell, is now open in downtown Waynesboro.
The museum houses dozens of paintings, sculptures, sketches and other works by Russell, an American artist, architect, author, composer and philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection occupies space in the three-floor, 32,500-square-foot building at 518 W. Main St., the former site of G&W Motorwerkes Ltd., a Porsche dealership that moved to Staunton.
The Russell Museum is connected to the University of Science and Philosophy, founded by Russell and his wife, Lao, in 1948. The curriculum teaches the science of man, mind and character development as a means of “unfolding” one’s innate potential.
For most of its history, the university — which does not offer accredited coursework — and Russell’s art were located at Swannanoa Palace in Afton, until the institution’s lease ended 20 years ago. The art had been kept in storage in Crimora and the university functioned through its online curriculum.
Russell, born in Boston in 1871, became renowned as portraitist at the turn of the 20th century. Later, President Franklin Roosevelt commissioned Russell to sculpt “The Four Freedoms,” based on FDR’s 1941 speech in which he stated everyone in the world desired the freedom of speech, the freedom to worship God in their own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Russell’s Four Freedoms monument, completed in 1943, now stands in Madison, Florida, the hometown of one the first U.S. heroes of World War II, Capt. Colin Kelly. Kelly died three days after Pearl Harbor while piloting a B-17 bomber against Japanese naval units in the Philippines.
The museum also houses a replica of the Four Freedoms in tis gallery.
The artist also is known for his connection to Mark Twain. Russell, who became acquainted with Twain before his death, sculpted the writer’s bust and was commissioned by Twain’s boyhood hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, to sculpt one of him seated with 28 of his literary characters. The latter sculpture, however, was never completed due to a lack of funding for the project during the Great Depression.
The museum’s mission, says Matt Presti, University of Science and Philosophy president, is “to preserve the Russell legacy.”
Russell, largely self-taught in the fine arts, also became known for his interest in the sciences, especially physics. He came to believe that everyone had an innate genius that could be “unfolded.”
“Unfolding one’s potential,” Presti said, is central to Russell’s philosophy as well as “the brotherhood of man principle” of lifting others up to help them reach their potential.
“Part of our mission is to inspire the community, all age groups, as well to economic development of downtown Waynesboro,” he said.
Presti said the museum opened to the public on July 4 and a grand opening is set for Nov. 1.
For now, hours will be limited, tentatively 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays, although that is subject to change, Presti said.
“We’re starting slow and will eventually go to five days a week,” he said.
Presti estimates the prodigious amount of artwork in the Russell collection — including sculptures, portraits and other paintings, sketches and personal effects — weighs more than 40 tons and continues to be sorted and catalogued in the new space.
Volunteers helped move most of the works out of storage once the nonprofit University of Science and Philosophy acquired the building in November.
“We’re still receiving shipments,” Presti said Wednesday.
Plans call for a variety of functions to be held at the space once ready, including corporate meetings, displays of local and traveling art, classes on fine art, presentations and regular speakers.
More information about the Russell Museum and the University of Science and Philosophy can be found online at www.philosophy.org.