Category Archives: From the Vault

Nancy Russell: Wife & Business Manager

Today, Charles M. Russell is a household name among patrons of art of the American West. Who do art historians consistently credit for being the reason we have the beautiful Russell artworks that not only grace our galleries at the Sid Richardson Museum, but many public and private collections around the world? The artist’s wife, Nancy Cooper Russell.

Born in 1874 in Kentucky, Nancy Cooper moved with her family to Montana in 1890. Four years later, at the age of 16, Nancy was left to fend for herself and eventually found work as a live-in housekeeper for a couple in Cascade, Montana. It was at their home where Nancy first met Charlie. A year later, in 1896, they married. Charlie was 32. Nancy was 18.

“I married the only Charlie Russell in the world, and my life has been full of romance, which they like to make movies out of, only mine happens to be real.”     Nancy Russell, 1924

Charles M. Russell Research Collection (Britzman)
Charles M. Russell and Nancy C. Russell
Silver gelatin print
Overall: 8 × 10 in. (20.3 × 25.4 cm)
GM TU2009.39.5647a
Gilcrease Museum/University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Although Nancy was young and had little education, she possessed great motivation. Without Nancy’s direction and business savvy, Charlie could have easily continued his life as a cowboy, trading sketches for drinks at the nearby tavern rather than becoming one of the highest paid living artists of his time. Nancy was not only Charlie’s wife, companion, and supporter, but she quickly became the artist’s business manager and gifted public relations expert. She guided Charlie on his choice of subjects, size, and medium of his works in response to buyer preferences. Nancy was even known to have her husband touch up paintings to increase their appeal to collectors.

“My wife has been an inspiration to me in my work. Without her I would probably have never attempted to soar or reach any height, further than to make a few pictures for my friends and old acquaintances . . . I still love and long for the old west, but I would sacrifice it all for Mrs. Russell.”

                                                                     Charles M. Russell, 1919

 

The two were certainly opposites in many ways; Russell charismatic and playful, Nancy structured and driven. They complemented each other. Charlie referred to the two as partners. Like any marriage, theirs was not without its struggles. But in a letter Charlie wrote to Nancy, his “Mame,” in 1919, he described how he really felt about her:

Dear Mame it’s a week tonight you left and it seems like longer to me. I want you to stay til you get all rested. the longer you stay the glader IM be to see you … maybe I’v fallen in love the second time but it’s all right if its the same woman and it is.

And a week later:

Dear Mame Its two weeks tomorrow night you left and I hope your rest has made you ten years younger caus you’l need it to stand the hugs you’l get when you meet me. I’l admit it must seem funny after being married over twenty- two years [to] start writing love letters, but it dont seem like I ever wanted you like I do now .., well I guess I’l bed down. There is one girl I know that I wish was here. Your loving husband’

(CMR to Nancy Russell, February 6, February 12, 1919, Britzman Collection, Colorado Springs Fine Art Museum.)

Charles M. Russell Research Collection (Britzman)
Nancy C. Russell circa 1908
Silver gelatin print
Overall: 3 5/8 x 4 5/8 in. (9.2 x 11.7 cm)
GM TU2009.39.7654.21
Gilcrease Museum/University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma

A self-taught business woman, Nancy was certainly a woman before her time. She was an advocate for her husband, a steward of his art, and a liaison to his patrons and critics. With her ability to take charge, Nancy Cooper Russell’s influence on Charlie’s career cannot be overlooked. Charlie was a lucky man.

The Pope and The Love Call

While Pope Francis travels around the US this week, I was reminded of a previous visit from the papal office. In October of 1965, Pope Paul VI visited the U.S. to address the United Nations in New York City. While he was there, President Lyndon Johnson traveled to NYC to call upon the pope at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Shown in the photo, left to right: Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (Ladybird); Luci Johnson, daughter of the Johnsons; unknown official; Pope Paul VI; President Lyndon Johnson. Photograph courtesy LBJ Presidential Library, Austin, Texas.

Shown in the photo, left to right: Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (Ladybird); Luci Johnson, daughter of the Johnsons; unknown official; Pope Paul VI; President Lyndon Johnson. Photograph courtesy LBJ Presidential Library, Austin, Texas.

Before the visit, the White House Staff called the David Findlay Galleries in NYC. The Findlay Galleries was known for representing works of great 19th-century American artists like Frederic Remington, George Caleb Bingham and Charles Russell. Those in Fort Worth might be familiar with one of the most famous Western paintings, Remington’s A Dash for the Timber, which was acquired through the Findlay Galleries. The White House Staff reached out to Mr. Findlay to request the loan of some appropriately beautiful paintings to be placed in the meeting room as a backdrop for the meeting between the pope and the president. David Findlay, Sr., lent them Frederic Remington’s The Love Call, seen to the right of President Johnson.

Frederic Remington | The Love Call | 1909 | Oil on canvas | 31 x 28 inches

Frederic Remington | The Love Call | 1909 | Oil on canvas | 31 x 28 inches

Today, The Love Call sits prominently on display among the Sid Richardson Museum’s collection of Remington’s nocturnes.

The West that has Passed

Between 1911 and 1916, Charles Russell’s first national exhibition “The West That Has Passed” was held in great cities like New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh and across the pond in London. The exhibition was a significant milestone in Russell’s career. Although it didn’t garner many sales, the exhibit did earn the respect of critics, who had begun to take the cowboy artist seriously. News of Russell’s success soon spread.

Nancy and Charlie posing on board a ship headed to Savannah for a well-deserved vacation after the successful “West That Has Passed” exhibition in New York. Nancy handed her Kodak to a stranger for the snapshot, May 1911. Charles M. Russell Research Collection. TU2009.39.273.5b. The Gilcrease Museum. University of Tulsa.

Nancy and Charlie posing on board a ship headed to Savannah for a well-deserved vacation after the successful “West That Has Passed” exhibition in New York. Nancy handed her Kodak to a stranger for the snapshot, May 1911. Charles M. Russell Research Collection. TU2009.39.273.5b. The Gilcrease Museum. University of Tulsa.

At the same time that Russell’s work and that of other Western artists began to rise in popularity, so too did art of the Modern movement. Oddly enough, when Charlie’s exhibit “The West That Has Passed” traveled to the Doré Galleries in London in 1914, the work hung simultaneously with a show of works by the newly formed Futurists in the next room. Futurists had evolved from the Cubists, favoring speed and glorifying modernity. How funny then that a show that celebrated a time passed paralleled an exhibit of works looking to the future!

Charlie was not a fan of his gallery mates’ artwork, nor did he enjoy the work of many European modernists or Old Masters. After the Doré exhibit ended, Charlie and his wife Nancy took a brief excursion to Paris and visited the Louvre. But Charlie was not impressed and longed to return home to his log studio in Montana.

Russell working on Whose Meat? In his log cabin studio, 1914.  Charles M. Russell Research Collection. TU2009.39.273.35a-b. The Gilcrease Museum. University of Tulsa.

Russell working on Whose Meat? in his log cabin studio, 1914. Charles M. Russell Research Collection. TU2009.39.273.35a-b. The Gilcrease Museum. University of Tulsa.

Happy Birthday, Sid!

On this day in 1891, Sid Richardson was born. During his lifetime, Sid demonstrated two defining characteristics: an ability to make lasting friendships and the ability to make money.

John Connally, Sid Richardson, Lyndon Johnson, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Dinner, 1957. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

John Connally, Sid Richardson, Lyndon Johnson, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Dinner, 1957. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

Though he was friends with many famous people throughout his career, including at the time, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Secretary of the Treasury George Humphrey, and Texas Congressman Sam Rayburn and Senator Lyndon Johnson, Sid shied away from the public eye. In 1954, five years before the oilman’s death, writer Eleanor Harris captured a rare interview with the billionaire bachelor for an article in Look magazine.

Sid was a serious businessman but also a compassionate man with a dry, “country” humor:

At 63, Sid Richardson is a big, easy-moving, barrel-bodied man with a face as pleasantly seamy as an old dog’s. The facial furrows are arranged around quiet hazel eyes and a crooked smile; he has thinning brown hair, and he walks with a rolling gait. “The swingin’ walk of mine is my own invention,” he drawls. “Broke my laig when I was 15; it’s a inch and a quarter shorter than the other. So I practice me a walk that wouldn’t make me limp. Took me a year – now I take long steps with the long laig, short steps with the other.” Perched on his good leg, he stands six feet tall.

Amon Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, Sid Richardson (seated), 1950. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

Amon Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, Sid Richardson (seated), 1950. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

Despite Sid’s perpetual bachelorhood, rumors constantly floated around Fort Worth, pairing the oilman with several lucky ladies, including the starlet Joan Crawford, with whom Sid had dined on many occasions. But Sid never married. He said he enjoyed life as is, living in his two-room suite in the Fort Worth Club, where he displayed his collection of paintings by Charles Russell and Frederic Remington. He began amassing his art collection in 1942, after Sid had struck it rich with the Keystone Oil Field in West Texas.

Although Sid became known for his riches, the East Texas-born man wasn’t always so lucky. His failed business in the cattle industry and attempts at early wildcatting left him broke more than once. Sid’s business advice:

“Don’t be in too big a hurry; don’t get excited; don’t lose your sense of humor. You can’t be objective and emotional at the same time…Luck helped me, too, every day of my life. And I’d rather be lucky than smart, ‘cause a lot of smart people ain’t eatin’ regular.”

Dobie and The Longhorns

Last week we temporarily installed a display in the galleries of a book from the museum’s library by folklorist and author J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns — originally from the library of Sid Richardson.

Sid Richardson enjoyed a warm friendship with Dobie who, at Sid’s invitation, used Richardson’s San Jose Island ranch as a writer’s haven in 1939 when he wrote The Longhorns. Each print edition of The Longhorns opens with a dedication to Sid, and each of the twenty chapters, illustrated by Tom Lea, is dedicated to a significant individual in Dobie’s life:

TO SID W. RICHARDSON

who is attempting to raise Longhorns on his ranch on Saint Joseph’s Island, where a part of this book was written, and who has encouraged it otherwise.

An old custom among Spanish bullfighters is, just before a bull is killed, to dedicate it to some individual in the stand. I have many bulls to kill; many individuals have helped me bring them in. Chapter by chapter, I make particular dedications to some of these friends.

The Longhorns | J. Frank Dobie | Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1941 | Inscription by Frank Dobie to Sid Richardson, March 12, 1942 | Sid Richardson Museum

The Longhorns | J. Frank Dobie | Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1941 | Inscription by Frank Dobie to Sid Richardson, March 12, 1942 | Sid Richardson Museum

Dobie wrote a personal inscription in Sid’s copy of The Longhorns, and “branded it” in the upper and lower left corners, as seen here.

I dedicated this book to Sid Richardson. Now I am branding it for him, so that it will have a better chance of not being stolen by some cow thief he entertains on Saint Joseph’s Island, where I stayed while I was writing about Sam Maverick’s mavericks. –Frank Dobie 3/12/42

Dobie later helped Richardson in his mission to preserve the Texas Longhorn by selecting a herd to be purchased by Richardson, and finding placement for the Longhorns in Texas state parks.  The herds were later consolidated and in 1948, moved to Fort Griffin State Park. Today, Fort Griffin State Park maintains the Longhorn herd. If you would like to learn more about the author, you can read about a short biography about J. Frank Dobie – writer, teacher and folklorist – at the Texas State Historical Association’s website.IMG_5499 editedIMG_5505

The book is illustrated by Tom Lea, an artist who may be familiar to many Texans. The jacket-frontispiece is reproduced from a mural he painted for the U.S. Post Office in Odessa, Texas, by courtesy of the Section of Fine Arts, Federal Works Agency, Washington, D.C.

Tom Lea, Stampede, 1940, photo courtesy of Leslie Thompson

Tom Lea, Stampede, 1940, photo courtesy of Leslie Thompson

The book will be on display until April 17. Stop by and enjoy this little piece of Texas and museum history!

Texas Post Office Murals

Sunday marked SRM artist Peter Hurd’s birthday.

During the Great Depression era, like many of his peers, Hurd joined the New Deal art projects to execute several post office murals in locations such as Dallas and Big Spring, Texas and Alamogordo, New Mexico, his native state. In Texas alone, the federal government commissioned 106 artworks for 69 post offices and federal buildings. Several of these pieces are now lost. As a scholar and admirer of American and Texas art of the 1930s, I have made it my personal mission to visit and document the remaining.

Peter Hurd, O Pioneers, 1938, Big Spring, Texas, Photo Courtesy of Leslie Thompson

Peter Hurd, O Pioneers, 1938, Big Spring, Texas, Photo Courtesy of Leslie Thompson

One of the Texas post office murals I have visited is Peter Hurd’s O Pioneers, which he painted in 1938 for Big Spring. The title is stems from a poem by Walt Whitman, a line of which is modified and inscribed on the mural:

 O Pioneers                                                                                                                          Democracy rests finally upon us                                                                                                  And our visions sweep through eternity

The painting depicts a domestic scene of pioneer life on the West Texas prairie. The Section of Fine Arts liked to project images of stability with its frontier subjects and encouraged Hurd to add details that would communicate such, like fat chickens and clothes hanging on the line to dry. While the clothesline doesn’t appear in this composition, Hurd did include the plump poultry, reinforcing another message endorsed by the federal officials: hard work leads to prosperity. In addition, Hurd attended to local details, incorporating Big Spring’s identify mesa, Signal Mountain, in the background.

Joe De Yong, Off to Northern Markets, 1939, Gatesville, Texas, Photo Courtesy of Leslie Thompson

Joe De Yong, Off to Northern Markets, 1939, Gatesville, Texas, Photo Courtesy of Leslie Thompson

To our museum visitors and Charles Russell followers, another familiar name found among the Texas post office murals is the cowboy artist’s only protégé, Joe De Yong. In 1939, De Yong painted Off to Northern Markets, for the Gatesville post office. Although a California artist, De Yong grew up among Texas and Oklahoma cowboys, providing him with some knowledge of cattle drives. (Fun fact: De Yong worked on this Gatesville mural while serving as technical advisor and costume designer for the Cecil B. De Mille movie Union Pacific.)

Campin’ Buddies

“In the city men shake hands and call each other friends but it’s the lonesome places that ties their harts together and harts do not forget.”

– Charles M. Russell to Santa Fe [Tom Conway], March 24, 1917

Last week we welcomed back home one of our own – Charles Russell’s Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed. Originally hung in Sid Richardson’s dining room at his San Jose Island home, this painting is a favorite among our visitors and had been out on loan with the traveling exhibition, Harmless Hunter: The Wildlife Work of Charles M. Russell, which was organized by the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of the Art of the American West, University of Oklahoma.

Charles Russell, Man's Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, 1916, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 48 1/8 inches

Charles Russell, Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, 1916, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 48 1/8 inches

rehanging collage 2

After completing Man’s Weapons…, Russell gifted the painting to his good friend, Howard Eaton, a pioneer dude rancher. Originally from Pittsburgh, Eaton had settled in North Dakota in 1882 and then relocated permanently on the eastern side of the Big Horn Mountains once his dude wrangling business gained a popular reputation. In fact, the Eaton dude ranch is still open today on Wolf Creek and operated by the fourth and fifth generations of Eatons.

The ranch sits near some national historic sites and parks. Howard Eaton had expanded his operation to include trail rides through the nearby Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and to the Southwest along the Grand Canyon. Russell accompanied Eaton on several trail rides, including a camping trip through Glacier in 1915 and 1916.

Russell (third from left) modeling for (from left) Howard Eaton, artist Joe Scheuerle, and an unidentified man in Glacier in 1915, AJ Baker, photographer, MHS photograph archives, Helena, Pac 99-52.MI, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Russell (third from left) modeling for (from left) Howard Eaton, artist Joe Scheuerle, and an unidentified man in Glacier in 1915, AJ Baker, photographer, MHS photograph archives, Helena, Pac 99-52.MI, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

The artist and his wife Nancy joined an Eaton party on a particularly memorable excursion through Navajo country and the Grand Canyon in Fall 1916 and kept a photo album of the trip, which shows Charlie relaxed and happy. The couple had been on an excursion to the Southwest before, and were both completely enchanted by Arizona. Nancy later recounted to a friend, “This trip has been a trip of memories. Chas. just loved it all and had such a good time every day then around the camp fires at night they always had the big talk.”

The Eaton party on Bright Angel Trail, Howard Eaton in the lead in vest and tie, Photograph by Almeron J. Baker, Helen E. and Homer E. Britzman Collection.  TU2009.39.7650.81/D.10.845. Gilcrease Museum Archives.  University of Tulsa.

The Eaton party on Bright Angel Trail, Howard Eaton in the lead in vest and tie, Photograph by Almeron J. Baker, Helen E. and Homer E. Britzman Collection. TU2009.39.7650.81/D.10.845. Gilcrease Museum Archives. University of Tulsa.

Nancy and Charlie Russell at chow time, Photograph by Almeron J. Baker, Helen E. and Homer E. Britzman Collection.  TU2009.39.7650.20/D.10.784. Gilcrease Museum Archives.  University of Tulsa.

Nancy and Charlie Russell at chow time, Photograph by Almeron J. Baker, Helen E. and Homer E. Britzman Collection. TU2009.39.7650.20/D.10.784. Gilcrease Museum Archives. University of Tulsa.

Catlin as Showman

As mentioned previously, George Catlin went on several summer excursions West in the early 1830s to record the customs and characters of American Indian tribes he encountered. After 1837, Catlin the artist turned into Catlin the showman, touring the East Coast and Europe with his collection of paintings, costumes, weapons, and household artifacts. He called it his “Indian Gallery” or “Gallery Unique.” In doing so, Catlin inaugurated the elements of what was to become known as Wild West Shows.

Unknown artist, The World's Greatest Amusement Institution Tompkin's Real Wild West Frontier Exhibition and European Circus, ca. 1911, Lithograph, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Unknown artist, The World’s Greatest Amusement Institution Tompkin’s Real Wild West Frontier Exhibition and European Circus, ca. 1911, Lithograph, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Unknown artist, Buffalo Ranch Real Wild West: Cowboys, Cowgirls, Indians, and Mexicans, ca. 1890-1910, Chromolithograph, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Unknown artist, Buffalo Ranch Real Wild West: Cowboys, Cowgirls, Indians, and Mexicans, ca. 1890-1910, Chromolithograph, Courtesy of Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

The Wild West Show as a form of entertainment did not become a major cultural phenomenon until the late 19th century, when Americans and Europeans became intrigued with the rapidly disappearing Plains frontier. All Wild West Showmen shared a goal – to create popular entertainments that provide spectators an opportunity to witness and appreciate replications of life on the Great Plains. Audiences of these shows typically experienced the portrayal of a simple, romantic world in which heroic people on horseback enjoyed untrammeled freedom, quickly eliminated evil, and ensured the success of the “American” way.

Erwin E. Smith, Part of the Wild West Show of Gordon W. Lillie "Pawnee Bill," famous showman who was touring the Eastern states at the time Erwin E. Smith, the photographer, was attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Photographed against a painted backdrop. Boston, Massachusetts., 1908, Nitrate negative, Courtesy of Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on Deposit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, © Erwin E. Smith Foundation

Erwin E. Smith, Part of the Wild West Show of Gordon W. Lillie “Pawnee Bill,” famous showman who was touring the Eastern states at the time Erwin E. Smith, the photographer, was attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Photographed against a painted backdrop. Boston, Massachusetts., 1908, Nitrate negative, Courtesy of Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on Deposit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, © Erwin E. Smith Foundation

Erwin E. Smith, Performers with stage coach in Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show., 1908, Gelatin dry plate negative, Courtesy of Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on Deposit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, © Erwin E. Smith Foundation

Erwin E. Smith, Performers with stage coach in Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show., 1908, Gelatin dry plate negative, Courtesy of Erwin E. Smith Collection of the Library of Congress on Deposit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, © Erwin E. Smith Foundation

Catlin pioneered much of the Wild West Show tradition, including conveying the look and feel of the prairies, its people, animals that roamed there, the joy of the hunt and chase, and colorful aspects of the frontier. The artist had witnessed the end of the Plains Indian culture – one built around family, ceremonial life, horsemanship, buffalo hunting, warfare and other pursuits free from outside influences. He believed that others would only know of the “vanishing” American Indian cultures through the visual record he had preserved, compelling him to reproduce and interpret the Plains Indian culture for the public and make a living in the process. Catlin conveyed his ideas through the reigning media of the day – paintings, museum-like collections, books, and lectures – and traveled his collection around the world.

Broadside for Catlin exhibit in Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, England, ca.1844, Courtesy Toronto Public Library, Gift of the Metcalf Family in Honour of Robert F. Reid

Broadside for Catlin exhibit in Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, England, ca.1844, Courtesy Toronto Public Library, Gift of the Metcalf Family in Honour of Robert F. Reid

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 - 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 – 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin's Indian Gallery, The Grand Salon, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Photo by Il Primo Uomo on Flickr

George Catlin’s Indian Gallery, The Grand Salon, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Photo by Il Primo Uomo on Flickr

Producing his enterprise was no simple – or inexpensive – task. Catlin had to hire many helpers. His collection of art and artifacts required proper packing and shipping. In addition to the hundreds of paintings, there were several thousand artifacts: tobacco pipes and domestic objects; weapons of war, the tomahawks, scalping knives, and clubs; and two live grizzly bears, which proved too troublesome for the European portion of his traveling exhibit. With a limited supply of affordable and fashionable exhibition space, Catlin often settled on salons at law buildings, old chapels, old theaters, and public buildings. His paintings and artifacts crowded the walls, displayed in what is referred to as “salon style,” in which images are stacked on top of each other from floor to ceiling. The exhibition’s festivities began promptly at 7:30pm. Electricity not yet available, lighting in the evening hours was provided by candles or whale oil lamps. Can you imagine?!

**Information for this post was collected by SRM research volunteer Shelle McMillen. Thank you, Shelle!**

The Cowboy Artist

It’s that time of year again – the Fort Worth Stock Show. Festivities begin tomorrow, and to gear up for the event we’re taking a look back at the roundup years of cowboy artist Charles M. Russell.

MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-687, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Untitled, photographer unidentified, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-687, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

As a young boy, Charles Russell was fascinated by tales of the West – Indians, explorers, cowboys, and more. Young Charlie was an avid reader of dime novels and tales of the pioneering frontier. By the age of 16, his parents relented to their son’s request to work on a ranch in Montana Territory. Much to their chagrin, Russell became enamored with the Big Sky Country and resolved to make it his home.

In 1882, Russell began working as a night wrangler, or a nighthawk, for the Judith Basin roundup. His task was to tend to the herd of horses while the other cowboys slept. Despite not being a good roper or rider, he held his job and supported himself by working as wrangler for the next 11 years.

Untitled, unidentified photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 946-387, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Untitled (Russell third from the left), unidentified photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 946-387, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Charlie on his horse Monte, 1886, Towner and Runsten, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-688, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Charlie on his horse Monte, 1886, Towner and Runsten, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-688, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

With his sense of humor, the young cowboy made friends effortlessly and kept his crew entertained with tales by the campfire. As he told a story, Charlie would work bits of wax in his hands to create figures and other small sculpture. Likewise, the self-taught cowboy artist would spend his free time drawing and sketching. By 1893, Russell left his work on the range and pursued a full-time career as an artist, producing scenes of the West he witnessed during his cowboy days.

Charles M. Russell, A Bad One, 1912, Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper, 19 3/4 x 28 5/8 inches

Charles M. Russell, A Bad One, 1912, Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper, 19 3/4 x 28 5/8 inches

Charles M. Russell, The Bucker, 1904, Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper, 16 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches

Charles M. Russell, The Bucker, 1904, Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper, 16 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches

Kidd Russell poses with Wallace Stairley in 1887, R. H. Beckwith, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-729, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Kidd Russell poses with Wallace Stairley in 1887, R. H. Beckwith, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-729, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Bill and Charles

Yesterday marked Charles Schreyvogel’s birthday. The young artist grew up in New York and New Jersey, but traveled to Europe where he studied at the Munich Art Academy. Schreyvogel returned weak and sickly. Although the doctor urged Schreyvogel to seek the dry, hot air of the American West, in the 1890s, the closest the artist could get to the West was William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show in New York. The traveling performance became one of Schreyvogel’s primary sources of information about Native Americans. He spent many visits sketching the actors from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows. It was the beginning of a friendship that would last many years.

Charles Schreyvogel, Attack on the Herd (Close Call), c. 1907, Oil on canvas, 26 1/8 x 34 1/4 inches

Charles Schreyvogel, Attack on the Herd (Close Call), c. 1907, Oil on canvas, 26 1/8 x 34 1/4 inches

Schreyvogel and his wife were frequent guests of Cody’s when the show was on the road, taking rides in the show arena in the famous Deadwood stage coach. In 1907, in an effort to refurbish Buffalo Bill’s image, Cody commissioned Schreyvogel to paint Rescue at Summit Springs, the Indian battle in which Cody had successfully taken part back in 1869. Charles Schreyvogel was one the most important artists whom Buffalo Bill patronized. As a token of their friendship, Cody gifted Schreyvogel a newly-made Sioux tepee, which would stand in the corner of Schreyvogel’s studio for many years and occasionally used as a model in paintings.

Stacy, Col. W. F. Cody "Buffalo Bill", ca.1900, Collodion silver chloride print, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Stacy, Col. W. F. Cody “Buffalo Bill”, ca.1900, Collodion silver chloride print, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Unknown artist, [Buffalo Bill on horseback], ca.1900, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Unknown artist, [Buffalo Bill on horseback], ca.1900, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

William Notman, [Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody], ca.1891, Albumen silver print, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

William Notman, [Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody], ca.1891, Albumen silver print, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Schreyvogel once tried to persuade Cody to accompany him on a tour of the West, but the old showman declined “because sick or well I have to be with the show.”

George Stacy, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, ca.1890s, Halftone, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

George Stacy, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, ca.1890s, Halftone, Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas