Like many former mill towns, the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield is home several empty industrial buildings.  

One of these buildings, now known as the Indian Orchard Mills, is home to a vibrant and eclectic community of local artists. 

In the first of a series of profiles on the creative that call the Mills home, Producer Brian Sullivan meets up with stained glass artist Carol Russell.

Read the full transcript:

Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: These old buildings may not be very eye catching. They’re big, square, comprised of millions of bricks, and built for industrial purposes. They harken back to a time when if there was a waterway close by, in this case, the Chicopee River, mill buildings like these were sure to be within striking distance.

But here in Indian Orchard, they’re more than just big brick structures. They’re part of its identity. We may not find the kind of industry that these buildings housed in the 19th century taking place today, but we will find some industrious people inside — people like Carol Russell.

Carol Russell, Owner: It’s wonderful, I’m around people. I’m around people that enjoy art and craft, and all my work is original and I’m a little sketchy with my artwork so I can walk down the hall and say to someone, “Could you just help me put the face on this? Or the legs? Are they right?” because they’re better artists than I am.

But it’s nice to just have them right near me.

Brian Sullivan: In the past, we visited a class in Easthampton where students made what are known as sun catchers. It’s a great introduction for anyone new to the world of stained glass art, as well as a nice way to do an art project in a relatively short amount of time.

These are not the types of projects that are being undertaken here, however.

Carol Russell: Well, you do a sun catcher to get it done in an hour. Some of this work takes months to create. Anything I have in the studio here is just things when I had a moment or two weeks to do something on my own that I really liked. The rest of it is I’ll never see again. It goes into homes. There’s a number of — number of businesses in the area I can look and see my work.

Some people want nothing but bevels, other people want geometric work, which I just finished and you saw, and there’s other people that just want something totally creative. And a lot of it is the work that I’m known for where I just the glass just flows.

Brian Sullivan: The common theme among artists is that it’s a lonely existence. It’s just their art and them and maybe some music in the background.

But Carol Russell has been fortunate to have family by her side carrying on this tradition, all the while maneuvering through some personal tragedy.

Carol Russell: I think it’s wonderful to have a close family like that, that — it goes on for a couple of generations. And I miss my daughter. She died tragically three months ago and she was the jeweler. She did all the beautiful jewelry and she was well known and very popular for her jewelry designs. They were one of a kind, made of glass.

When she died, a lot of her work was halfway done, ready to go. And it’s sad to see. And now my grandson, her – her son works with me, who is a wonderful stained glass artist.

Brian Sullivan: Within the confines of this 300,000 square foot complex, there are also several non-art related businesses. But this spot has become one of the largest art colonies around. And twice a year, once in May and again in November, they host a public art show and gallery.

Here’s a little fun fact: this mill building that houses the gallery, as well as several of the artists and artisans, actually dates back to pre-Civil War time. And for the past 20 years or so, there’s been a major influx of artists and artisans taking up residence in this building.

The year 2023 makes it 25 years for Carol Russell. In that begs the question, what’s next?

Carol Russell: I don’t know. I tried to retire three years ago. Everybody sent me flowers and said, “Oh, that’s wonderful.” And my studio was rented out to someone else.

And I said, “No, you know, I don’t I don’t want to retire.” There was nothing else that interested me.