Funky & Fun: Sally Russell’s Playful Touch
Monterey Herald Haven | Fall/Winter 2007
By Renee Brincks
Through Sally Russell’s eyes, even ordinary objects burst with artistic possibilities.
The sketch of a flower in a Hawaiian garden inspires tote bags splashed with citrus-hued floral patterns. A few fabric scraps, bottle caps and old plastic curlers fill clear containers stacked totem-style. Paint, stenciled letters and lustrous glazes transform rocks from Carmel Beach into sassy dinner party place markers.
“Art has always been a passion for me,” says Russell, a Monterey Peninsula native who opened her first studio six years ago in Carmel Valley. At the time, she was best known for ceramic totems that still grace yards and commercial spaces from Big Sur to Seattle to New York. Stretching as high as ten feet, the posh posts shine with brilliant colors and funky patterns.
After taking a few ceramics classes at Monterey Peninsula College, Russell found herself thinking somewhat smaller: She began designing dinnerware. Her sturdy plates, bowls, cups and vases feature solid colors as well as playful polka dots and stripes set against vibrant background shades. With slightly uneven textures, gently dimpled surfaces and chunky handles, the handcrafted mix-and-match creations have a delightfully organic feel.
The success of her house wares inspired Russell to create complimentary cloth napkins, double-sided placemats and whimsical tea towels. Her line has also grown to include tote bags, Christmas stockings and aprons in both a traditional style and a shorter version reflecting 1950s design. Russell’s popular Party Rox place markers, which started as painted rocks stenciled with impish nicknames such as “cowboy,” “flirt,” and “fashionista,” are particularly entertaining conversation starters at parties nationwide.
Today, more than 500 stores across the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia carry Russell’s products. In her Monterey warehouse studio, stacks of boxes reach the rafters, all packed with platters, ice cream bowls and tumblers ready to ship. Oprah’s O Magazine, Coastal Living, Elle and San Francisco Chronicle have covered her creations; last October, Russell headlined an HGTV special about designers partial to polka dots.
With an established dinnerware line and textile sales increasing more quickly than she ever expected, Sally Russell is turning her focus to future creative ventures. This fall, she will release a line of lively, durable children’s aprons, and she looks forward to developing additional products for kids. Russell’s work has always had a playful twist. Motherhood, however, has only fueled her artistic imagination.
“I have a two-year-old daughter, and we always have toys lying around,” she says. “It certainly has made me want to do more children’s projects.”
Russell’s husband, Chuck Drake, is also part of the family operation as a manager and logistics man. Product sales are strong. Still, the couple continues to learn as they grow the burgeoning business.
“Financially, it can be a challenge. You put into it your heart and your soul and your home equity line,” laughs Russell, adding that her work brings ongoing personal satisfaction.
“It’s rewarding to see the enthusiasm in people at the shows and on the phone. It’s definitely rewarding knowing that my designs are bringing happiness to the world,” she says. “That’s always been a goal of mine. I want to leave the world a better, more joyful place.”
Several local outlets carry Sally Russell ceramics and linens, including Bahama Billy’s Gallery and Cass’ Paperie in Carmel, as well as Monterey’s East Village Coffee Lounge. To view a complete store list, request the latest catalog or order products, visit www.sallyrussellstudio.com or call 877-644-0144.