WILKES-BARRE – Carving out a legacy in stone and metal, the talent and work of local sculptor Lawrence Russo is being honored with an exhibit, “The Art of Lawrence Russo,” at the Luzerne County Historical Society.
Russo, a seventh generation sculptor, made a professional life of sculpting and creating beautiful works of art that now adorn many area churches, cemeteries and monuments throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania and several other states. Within the marble walls of the Luzerne Country Courthouse, Russo restored 60 portraits and 26 murals.
One of his most notable projects is the 24-foot tall statue of the ‘King of Christ’ atop of the King’s College admissions building in Wilkes-Barre. Dedicated in 1956, the statue contains over 1,500 pounds of aluminum.
The exhibit was assembled through the collection of photos and newspaper articles saved by Russo’s daughter, Mary Russo Ermel, of Forty Fort. The Historical Society held the grand opening of the exhibit Friday night. The exhibit will remain open until Jan. 31 at the Luzerne County Historical Society during normal business hours.
“We nicknamed him Michelangelo,” Ermel said. “He actually died on the same day as Michelangelo.”
The exhibit was something Ermel always wanted to do. So when the Luzerne County Historical Society Curator Mary Ruth Burke contacted Ermel, the dream became a reality.
“I am overwhelmed with pride,” Ermel said. “The people of the (Wyoming) Valley do not know what they have here.”
Burke said Ermel lost some of the molds and pictures of her father during the 1972 flood, but much was saved.
Burke said previously the Historical Society did not have anything about Russo in their archives. The information gathered will now be cataloged and registered in the society’s data base.
Russo was born in Naples, Italy, and raised in Brooklyn. He made the Wyoming Valley his home after marrying Dorothy Chappel, formerly of Plymouth.
Ermel said Russo’s father, Gaetano Russo, moved the family from Italy to New York when he was hired to create the statue in the middle of Columbus Circle in New York City.
The exhibit’s opening night drew a large crowd. Patrons filled in the upstairs of the Historical Society’s museum to the point that it was difficult to move around. Black-and-white photos, some dated as far back as 1916, showed Russo working on his many projects graced the walls.
Photos of Russo working on the statue of St. Joseph with the Christ Child reveal his eye for detail as the soft folds of the gown draped down St. Joseph with a gentle ripple to the statue’s feet.
The exhibit also revealed Russo was concerned about the fate of his field. It was noted when he joined the Sculptors and Carvers Association in 1920 there were 197 members. In 1964, there were only 17 sculptors in the United States.
“He use to say, ‘anyone could do this,’” Ermel said.
Among those in attendance was Robert Taylor, 88, of Pittston, who remembered building the scaffolding for Russo to create the “King of Christ” statue and the stone “Evangelists” on St. Joseph’s Church in Hazleton.
“He was a regular guy, a real nice guy,” Taylor said. “I remember him lying on the scaffolding to cut the stone at St. Joseph’s.”
Taylor said he watched Russo take a blank square stone and begin to cut out a detailed image of rope.
“He was the last real artist,” he said. “Today it is all done by computers.”