Kentucky artist completes mural as part of bigger project

Published 6:01 am Saturday, July 3, 2021

Good things are happening in Russell.

Just ask Mayor Ron Simpson. He and the group Revitalize Russell are working to make the city more attractive, hoping a sort of makeover will help bring businesses — and tourists — to the downtown area.

One project completed: A “Welcome to Russell” mural by Ashland artist Elias Reynolds.

“Tracy Frye commissioned me to make a painting of Russell encompassing various landmarks for her law office in Russell,” Reynolds said. “The Russell City Council liked it so much they decided they wanted a mural of it. I added the ‘Welcome to Russell’ for the mural.”

He said it was important to express the history of Russell and the progress that’s ahead.

“The goals of Revitalize Russell are important because it’s creating a community and atmosphere where people are going to want to be, whether it’s shopping, self-care with the Nest Spa, doing business,” Reynolds said. “Everything is in walking distance. They’ve done a great job redoing the sidewalks and installing new street lamps. It’s a very charming town to visit and spend time with friends and family.”

That’s the impression Revitalize Russell is shooting for, Simpson said.

“Any town likes to have its seat of government look nice and that was a common thread,” he said. “We want downtown to be a place you might want to have a day trip, with shops and something to attract you to come down and see the city.”

Simpson said he would like to see the town return to its former glory.

“A lot of people remember it as a railroad community, and it used to be a thriving city,” he said, noting he is one of those people, having grown up in Russell. “Then, the bridge went away and vacant buildings started popping up.”

Revitalize Russell was organized just six months ago, but already has seen much progress, in addition to the mural.

— Simpson said the city has proceeded with acquiring the land where the old bridge came in to Russell and aims to make the area a park or a stage that will tie into downtown. Sidewalks and new lights have been installed.

— Bluegrass Mama’s Creations has opened at 444 Bellefonte Street, offering locally made products for the home, as well as paint parties and monthly painting sessions. Owner Chelsie Potter is working on another mural for downtown. A bakery is set to open soon in the same building.

— The Nest Day Spa opened on Thursday.

— A floral shop is scheduled for an August opening.

An ongoing project to fund Revitalize Russell is the T-shirt. Cost is $20 each and all profit benefits Revitalize Russell. Shirts may be purchased during normal business hours at The Edge Business Center at 1100 Our Lady’s Way and Frye & Troxler, PSC at 400 Ferry Street in downtown Russell.

Simpson said they’re trying to rezone some residential areas to commercial so lower levels can be used for businesses and upper levels can contain housing.

“The citizens petitioned for it,” Simpson said. “They wanted one more shot at seeing what they could do for downtown.”

One Russell businesswoman is especially interested in that rezoning plan.

Sarah Gabbard has purchased and refurbished several buildings in Russell.

“We’re remodeling from top to bottom with commercial space on the ground floor and residential spaces on top,” she said, noting bringing life to Russell has been important to her for a while.

“Since the get-go, it was something I had always talked about wanting to see come to life,” she said. “A group of us talked abut it and had the same goals and decideed this was the perfect store. We wanted to see downtown restored and bring new businesses to town and give local small business owners a nice place that’s affordable.”

She said flowers and hanging baskets are on the group’s agenda.

“We’re creating a quaint, trendy place with lots of things to do and pretty buildings — something for families and, if it all comes to fruition, it should be pretty amazing,” Gabbard said.

There’s plenty of work still to do, Simpson said, adding he hopes to create walking trails around town, for one. He’s hopeful the plans to make Russell a town that attracts visitors will be carried out in time.

“This whole experience has been teamwork. Everyone is willing to do whatever is needed,” he said. “If you don’t try, you don’t know.”