KINGMAN With a small brush pinched between thumb and finger, local artist Sandy Rusinko appears to be in a world apart as she brings paint to canvas.
Though her craft is solitary, she never is.
At her side is her husband of 22 years, Mike, a 68-year-old former construction worker with thinning white hair, hands made strong by a lifetime of honest work and a subtle western charm that seems to define him. And though he said he rarely smiles, he betrayed himself again and again as he spoke of his wife, her art and their life together.
"As long as we've been together she still amazes me," Mike said, a smile again spreading across his face.
The two first met over cocktails at a singles function in California. Sandy had come with a girlfriend, who first noticed Mike standing across the room talking to another woman. She commented to Sandy that she thought he looked interesting before approaching him and introducing the two.
Mike broke the ice with Sandy by showing her a tattoo of her name on his arm, a very permanent memento from a previous marriage to a woman of the same name. Despite their immediate attraction, Mike politely departed and rejoined the woman to whom he had previously been speaking, an act of consideration Mike said Sandy appreciated.
He didn't miss the opportunity to write down Sandy's phone number, though.
In less than five months, they stood together in the breezeway of an eight-horse barn that belonged to Mike's son as a minister in full western garb walked them through their wedding vows.
"We clicked right away," Mike recounted, "and we've been together ever since."
At the time they were married, Sandy worked in California as a commercial artist, creating murals and paintings for different restaurants, a job Mike said did not make her happy.
"I saw what she was doing at home and I thought it was pretty good," he said. "I told her I'd take care of her and to quit her job and that's all it took."
Since that time, Sandy has taken her love of art to the upper echelons of professional success. From her quaint home tucked away in the Hualapai Mountains, she paints daily, producing approximately one piece each week, all of which are for sale. Subject matter includes but is not limited to western, wildlife, portraits and pets.
Her detailed and colorful images can now be found in department stores around the country on jigsaw puzzles, banners, collectible figurines, greeting cards and address labels.
And, as her business card clearly states, no job is too big or too small. Her murals, the first of which she painted on the Justice Court Building downtown only four years ago, are now a common sight all over the city.
Locations where they can be found include the Route 66 Museum in the Powerhouse Visitor's Center, the Dambar Steakhouse patio, the downtown water tower on Andy Devine Avenue and the Ocotilla Cantina in Golden Valley, which has yet to open, but to date is Rusinko's largest and most time-consuming project.
Many of her murals also appear outside of public view in the homes of area residents.
When Sandy paints a mural, which typically takes three to four weeks, Mike said he is never far from her side.
"I'm there to wash brushes, set up scaffolding, whatever is necessary," the self-described gopher said, adding, "and I'm always there to make sure she is safe."
In a separate interview days prior, Sandy said, "If I didn't have him there to help me I wouldn't be able to do it."
To commission a custom painting or mural, call 692-8205.