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|Unfinished Mural -detail 3
Russell Means is probably the most famous Indian American since Geronimo and Crazy horse. During the late 1960's he worked for the Council for Economic Opportunity in Cleveland and then went on to become a key political figure in the American Indian Movement (AIM). The man was already a living legend when Hollywood came calling and made him a star in Michael Mann's epic film "The Last of the Mohicans" (co-staring with Daniel Day Lewis).
John met with "Russ" in Cleveland during a meeting at James Levin's home on the city's west side. Russell was already on the list of choices to be on the mural so having him in town was a stroke of luck. The first thing that impressed John was the size of the man. He was tall and imposing with a capital "I" (which could also stand for "intimidating"). In fact, other than outside the United States, John had never seen anyone so well guarded by armed bodyguards as Russell Means.
John's great grandmother had been one of the few remaining Taino Indians in Puerto Rico, and his high cheekbones can be traced to her. So in a way, he and Russell had something in common, perhaps more than was apparent on the surface. Russ was very gracious during the shoot and John had a great time studying the legend in person and listening about his experiences in Hollywood. When asked how he wanted to be dressed, Russell didn't miss a beat: -"Black pants, black shirt and turquoise (referring to the decorative stones on his long braids)".
The first thing John did back at his studio was eraze his previous outline of Russell and add three inches to his height. Then he portrayed him in what was now an apparent Russell Means fashion: holding court. Surrounding Russell are Greta Garbo, Pablo Picasso, Robert Mayer, Beatle George Harrison, and the Empress of China -portrayed by Cleveland's top immigration attorney Margaret Wong. Having met him it was obvious to John they would also find Russell Means a fascinating person.
Here's another interesting note. Robert Mayer, the figure whispering something to Picasso, was then the president of the Cleveland Institute of Art. John and Bob became friends while serving on the Regional Transit Authority's (RTA) Arts on Transit Committee, an important public arts board. In 1979 the school had denied John entry into their painting program and Bob got a good chuckle at the irony, especially when at every presentation of the Thinkers Coffeehouse Mural John told everyone the story -his none too subtle form of revenge and criticism of the Institute's weak painting program.
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