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Montana Stops on the Way

C.M. Russell’s Vibrant Art inspired by Montana

Visit Great Falls, Mont., to see C.M. Russell's gorgeous paintings and his log-cabin studio north of Yellowstone.

You’ll find one of the West’s most vibrant storytellers in Great Falls, Mont.

But you won’t be able to hear his stories. The great artist Charles Marion Russell died in 1926. Instead, you’ll discover evocative scenes from the 1800s and early 1900s depicted across his broad canvases with splashes of bright-colored paint at the C.M. Russell Museum. You’ll find herds of boisterous elk and the haunting sunlit faces of three Native Americans witnessing a steamboat on the Missouri River for the first time.

“I like to say that the more you dig into Charlie Russell and his art and writings, the more you are drawn into his world,” says Duane Braaten, the museum’s director of art and philanthropy. “You find you’d like to sit around a campfire with him and hear his stories. A visit to the museum is about the closest we’ll ever get to that.”

Charles M. Russell (1864-1926) The Jerk Line, 1912, oil on canvas, C.M. Russell Museum Collection, Gift of Fred Birch (cropped)
Charles M. Russell (1864-1926) The Jerk Line, 1912, oil on canvas, C.M. Russell Museum Collection, Gift of Fred Birch (cropped)Courtesy of C.M. Russell Museum

While artists of Russell’s era like Thomas Moran and Frederic Remington traveled to the West periodically, Russell stayed, carving out a rich life in a corner of the West where the Great Plains roll up to the Rocky Mountain front. The museum, his home and log-hewn studio sit on the city block where Russell, his wife Nancy and son Jack lived.

Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), The Fireboat, 1918, oil on board, C.M. Russell Museum Collection, Gift of Mrs. Wade George in memory of Wade Hampton…
Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), The Fireboat, 1918, oil on board, C.M. Russell Museum Collection, Gift of Mrs. Wade George in memory of Wade Hampton George (cropped)Courtesy of C.M. Russell Museum

Befriending native tribes, he earned the nickname “Ah-Wah-Cous” for “antelope” because of the buckskin patch on the rear of his wool pants. A quiet community leader, locals continue to revere him because he captured the real lives of earlier generations.

“A few of his paintings are almost like photographs,” says Rebecca Engum, executive director of Great Falls Montana Tourism. “My husband’s grandfather’s favorite piece was one of cowboys roping a bear [the 1916 Loops and Swift Horses]. He always said, ‘Son, that’s one of the things we probably never should have done.’ He captured things people actually did, which is what endears him to the community.”

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For more information:
C.M. Russell Museum
400 13th St. N.,
Great Falls, Mont.
cmrussell.org