Charlie Russell

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CHARLES MARION RUSSELL, American (1864-1926)

Charles Marion Russell best known as a painter of the American west, he was also an historian, an advocate for the Northern Plains Indians, cowboy, outdoorsman, writer, philosopher, environmentalist, and conservationist. Also known as C. M. Russell, Charlie Russell, and "Kid" Russell, the "Cowboy Artist" created more than 4,000 works of cowboys, Indians, and landscapes set in the Western United States and Canada, as well as a significant number of sculptures.

One of the few western artists who actually lived the majority of his life in the region, he set a particularly high standard for those who followed him.  Born in St. Louis and showing appreciable artistic talent as a child, Russell dreamed of being a cowboy from an early age. He fulfilled this dream days after his 16th birthday, when he headed for the Judith Basin of Montana in 1880. After brief stints herding sheep, he finally realized his dream when he took a position as a night wrangler for the Judith Basin Roundup. Placing him amidst working cowboys, the job gave him opportunities to observe, sketch and document all the activities and excitement of the camp. Russell loved the work so much that he spent the next 11 years as a cowboy and wrangler before turning to art full time.
It can be said that his time at the Roundup also opened up his art career. One day, the ranch foreman received a letter from the owner, asking how the cattle herd had weathered the winter. In response, the foreman sent a postcard-sized watercolor Russell had painted of gaunt steer being watched by wolves under a bleak and cold winter sky. The ranch owner showed the postcard to friends and eventually displayed it in a shop window in Helena, igniting interest in the young artist and his work. His caption on the sketch, "Waiting for a Chinook," became the drawing's title, and the more detailed version Russell eventually created became one of his best-known works.

Russell made frequent visits to Alberta, Canada, where he visited the Blood Indians of the region. He held great admiration for the native tribes, especially those of the Northern Plains. His empathy is reflected in his portraits.

Russell married Nancy Cooper in 1896. Nancy became his business manager and his success is due in part to her work promoting his career. She set up many shows for Russell throughout the United States and in London, and marketed his work to a broader audience. He painted and sculpted in his log studio adjacent to their Montana home, filling it with Indian clothing, artifacts, objects, weapons, and other objects that helped him accurately depict scenes of the west. Russell completed all of his major works in this studio from 1903 on, became something of a local character and an international celebrity.

Russell's love of Montana kept him there for 46 years. His life there was consistently reflected in his work.

Charlie Russell died on October 24, 1926 at his home in Great Falls, Montana.