Josie's joyous images outshine her troubled past

Fourteen years after she witnessed the murder of her mother and sister, the artist shows her work
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The Independent Culture

Josie Russell was assumed to be dead when she was found at the edge of a field alongside the bodies of her mother and six-year-old sister. All were victims of a frenzied hammer attack, and Josie didn't speak for over a year after part of her skull was replaced with a titanium plate. Fourteen years later, now 23 and bearing a close resemblance to her late mother, Ms Russell has opened an exhibition of her artwork in Anglesey, another milestone in an extraordinary recovery. Her works are primarily depictions of the North Wales countryside near Bangor, where she completed a degree in graphic design.

"At first she had terrible flashbacks and panic attacks," said her father, Shaun Russell, director of Bangor University's Environmental Research Unit. "She was frightened if she came across a man when we went walking on the hills near our home in North Wales, but she got over it after a couple of years."

The collages betrays no hint of the attack in Kent that shocked the country in 1996. Because she was the key witness, Ms Russell had to be guided through the deaths of her mother, Lin, and sister, Megan, to provide video evidence for the trial of their attacker. Michael Stone is now serving life for the murders and will not be considered for release until 2031.

Ms Russell, a Bangor University graphic design graduate, is also selling her work at arts and crafts fairs and through her website.

The site makes no mention of her having been the victim of violent crime. She describes only her artistic career and love of nature, not her long battle back to health – a battle which her widowed father described as his "reason for living". Ms Russell still struggles with written work and had to enlist the help of a friend with the text on the website. It states: "My deep-rooted passion for art and design began when I was very young, and carries on to the present day.

"When I am not working on art and craft projects I can usually be found outdoors – be that in my garden, or else walking through the beautiful hills of the Snowdonia National Park."

The site has been besieged by would-be buyers competing for her interpretations in textile of Snowdonia, currently on show at Plas Newydd, the Marquess of Anglesey's stately home. Some have sold for up to £200.

"It's very exciting, and I've been quite surprised that I've already sold three pictures, and I only put them up on Friday," she said.

Ms Russell works part-time at a supermarket, where she is occasionally recognised by her name badge, but is hoping that she can eventually give that up to concentrate on her art.