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A PICTURE IN HIS MIND

INTERVIEW AND PHOTOGRAPH BY EDMUND FOUNTAIN / TIMES STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Eighty-four-year-old Chuck Russo has been making foam sculptures and paintings under the name "El Rosso" in an attic studio above Russo's Hardware, his Garden Grove business, since 1960. Russo sculpts all sorts of characters, notably celebrities and politicians, often mailing pictures of the end result to the people who inspired his creations. He is now looking for a home for his collection of characters, which he refers to as the Museum of Laughs.

CHUCK: I started in 1960. I've made approximately 100 (sculptures) in addition to some wall sculpture and some modern paintings.

It kept my sanity. It brought me away from the ups and downs of the hardware business. I probably put too much time in it. The business would have been more successful if I hadn't had this hobby. But humor helps. That saying, "Laughter is the best medicine," I think it's true.

I think that most of the characters that I photograph, whomever I send them to, most of the publications, magazines, newspapers, TV stations, they respond. They usually smile or laugh. A lot of them respond by a signature or an autograph. A few, they don't want to be characterized, like one of the politicians. I don't think (the Rev.) Billy Graham cared for the character I did of him. I enlarge a lot of the noses, and I don't think he liked it, although I support him and I think he's doing great work.

My only sculpture (on display) would be at the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids (Mich.), The Sprit of '76, which is President Gerald Ford. I don't know of anybody else that has any of my work. I haven't sold anything in 20 or 25 years.

I've been working on a museum idea. I've got enough statues from 4 feet to 8 feet to fill a museum. I would like to connect with a sponsor that has money and has a big enough building to take care of them. I've made some small sculptures that I've hung up in the hardware store. Maybe somebody will be interested. But there's not enough traffic in here to get anybody, and my reputation isn't that great in the art world to have them purchase one of the sculptured wall hangings.

This is what keeps me going. I'm just hoping to connect with somebody, somehow. And I'm optimistic about it. You've got to keep that picture in your mind. I'll never stop. Wayne Dyer wrote a book, similar to Dr. Phil, it's self-help, and he says keep that picture in your mind, meditate and it's all about the source. The source is never low; it's never empty. It's always full, and something will come from it.

Believe is an occasional feature about the different things that sustain and challenge us. To share comments or ideas, contact Edmund Fountain at efountain@sptimes.com.

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