Most of you never knew my younger brother, Russell. I wish you had. He was the better of us.
Though an Ozarks farm boy the same as me, when choosing a path for his life, like the poet Robert Frost, he “took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference.”
It was clear even as boys, Russell and I would head in divergent directions. I loved the farm and cows. He, not so much. He favored books, consuming J.R.R. Tolkien years before most of us had even heard of The Hobbit. He was smart. My senior year of high school, I got an FFA jacket. Russell got a slide rule.
In high school together — I was a senior when he was a freshman — we had the same science class. He was at the top, and I was somewhere down the scale.
Excelling in math and the sciences, he was president of the Beta Club and valedictorian of the Fair Grove High School class of 1968. Amassing medals as a scholar and runner, he sported a letter jacket decorated and jingling similar to a South American general, or so we quipped.
Whereas I toiled for two years to save money to start college in Springfield, Russell went directly to study engineering at the University of Missouri at Rolla with scholarships and grants — just as many of his teachers expected him to do.
But this was not the road of Russell’s choosing.
After two years at UMR, he transferred to today’s Missouri State University to study art, emphasis on printmaking. With a bachelor of fine arts from MSU in hand, he then set his sights on Tamarind Institute, a lithography workshop division of the University of New Mexico, and subsequently moved to Albuquerque with his school teacher bride, Sharon.
As the biographers often summarize, the rest is history. The Missouri farm boy became over time one of the Southwest’s preeminent landscape artists, focusing on the mountains and trout streams of his beloved northern New Mexico haunts. Examples of his work still can be seen at exhibit208.com and www.artreachweb.com/russell-hamilton/.
Russell’s road from the farm to New Mexico’s art galleries was not an easy one. Throughout most of his career, he struggled with kidney disease, working prolifically through dialysis and three kidney transplants. Ultimately, it was cancer in his original non-functioning kidney which claimed his life on Oct. 29, 2014.
Had he lived, Russell would be 70 today, June 24, and it seems I should still be able to pick up the telephone and talk with him as I often did. In my mind, he remains this close. In a tangible sense, I reckon he is, too, in eternal rest on a ridge overlooking the Pomme de Terre River near Fair Grove — a long way from New Mexico, but yet on his road less traveled.
Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright James E. Hamilton, 2020.