Memorable Manitobans: John Alonzo Russell (1907-1966)
Born at Hindsdale, New Hampshire on 28 October 1907, he was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he had a diploma (1932) from the Fontainbleu School of Fine Arts. In 1928, he accepted a position at the University of Manitoba in the School of Architecture and Fine Arts. He became director of the school in 1946 and was later appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Architecture. He was additionally known for his work with the Little Theatre Group and the Winnipeg Ballet, where he played an important behind-the-scenes role in the areas of set and costume design. He did similar work for the University Glee Club and civic pageants. He was, for example, responsible for the decoration of Winnipeg’s streets for the 1939 Royal visit. For his creative contributions and his work as a lecturer, he received an award in 1940 by the governing committee on Drama Awards in Vancouver.
He was a director and president of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and a board member of the Winnipeg School of Art. He also belonged to the Federation of Canadian Artists and served as professional advisor and jurist for several national architectural competitions including the competition for the Fathers of Confederation Building in Charlottetown. He was a member of the First Church of Christ Scientists, Canada Council, Advisory Committee on Airports at Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton, the Fine Arts Advisory Committee for Canadian Building at Expo ‘67, the Architectural Advisory Committee for Wascana Centre in Regina, the Advisory Committee of Nova Scotia Technical College, School of Architecture, Advisory Committee of Saskatchewan Technical Institute, and Chairman of the Committee on Planning and Design of University Campuses.
He served as President of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Dean of the College of Fellows, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and was a member of the American Institute of Architects, Manitoba Society of Artists, Association of Architectural Historians – United States and Great Britain, and Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He was an honorary life member in the Manitoba Association of Architects, a Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He and his wife Shirley Beatrice Russell (?-?) shared two children: Barry Russell and Nancy Russell.
He died at Deer Lodge Hospital on 28 December 1966 and was buried in the Garry Memorial Park. He is commemorated by the Russell Building at the Fort Garry Campus of the University of Manitoba.
“An energetic artist,” Winnipeg Tribune, 11 September 1948. [Manitoba Legislative Library, Biographical Scrapbook B10, page 47]
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 29 December 1966, page 21.
This page was prepared by Sarah Ramsden.
Page revised: 13 February 2020