C. M. Russell - The Cowboy Artist

 Charles Marion Russell -

The Cowboy Artist

   David Mihalic, former Superintendent of both Glacier and Yosemite National Parks and an artist himself, said of Glacier, “It’s a magical landscape that causes creative juices to flow.”*  This creativity can be seen through the centuries in the arts and crafts of the Blackfeet Indians, who named this place Mistakis, the Backbone of the World to the paintings of contemporary Artists-in-Residence, chosen by the National Park Service. But perhaps the name most known as the painter of Glacier is Charles M. Russell.

    Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1864, Charles Marion Russell had moved to Montana by the age of sixteen to work on a sheep ranch. It is said that while he was working there during the severe winter of 1886-87, Russell did a small watercolor painting of a steer being watched by wolves. The ranch foreman sent the sketch to the ranch owner in response to his query about how the herd had fared that winter. The owner showed the painting to friends and it was displayed in a store window in Helena, thus beginning his notoriety as The Word Painter. The painting was titled Waiting for a Chinook.

Russell and his wife, Nancy Cooper, built a home and studio in Great Falls, and a cabin in Glacier National Park. The cabin was accessible by boat only and hidden by brush from the shoreline, marked only by a buffalo skull. There he and Nancy hosted many guests including artists such as Joe DeYong and Maynard Dixon.

His work was published nationally in such magazines as Field and Stream and Sports Afield and his paintings and bronze sculptures were collected by actors and film makers during a time of great popularity of movies about the West. His first one-man exhibition in New York in 1911 was a large success and he became one of the highest paid artists in the country.

Russell died at his home in Great Falls in 1926. In 2009, his 1907 watercolor/guache painting, The Truce, sold at auction for $2,030,000.

   For more information, visit The C. M. Russell Museum website.

Quotations from
The Call of the Mountains: The Artists of Glacier National Park
by Larry Len Peterson


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