"HONORARY SUBSCRIBER: CHARLIE RUSSELL
Today's Honorary Subscriber is Montana's famous "Cowboy Artist,"
Charles M. ("Charlie") Russell (1864-1926), who completed an amazing
4,000 works of art during his lifetime, all dealing exclusively with a
single subject: the American West.
Russell, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was born to moderate
wealth and first came to Montana as a boy of 16 with a dream of becoming
a real cowboy. During those first years in Montana, he received great
encouragement from Jake Hoover, a mountain man who befriended him and
took him under his wing. Hoover often shared his cabin with the young
Russell, sometimes providing food and shelter for months at a time. This
friendship allowed Russell to experience the ways of the frontier life
he would later portray so vividly in his paintings.
In 1882 Russell landed a job as a wrangler on a cattle drive. He
worked as a wrangler for the next eleven years, and while he was not
known for being a good roper or rider, he established a local reputation
as the affable (some said bone lazy) cowboy who loved to draw and knew
how to tell a great story. As a self-taught artist, his sketches were
crude but reflected an observant eye, a feel for animal and human
anatomy, a sense of humor and a flair for portraying action -- all to
become hallmarks of Russell's mature art.
Russell transformed his Western themes into book, newspaper, and
magazine illustrations, and supported himself by producing images for
calendars and postcards, advertisements, and souvenir pamphlets for
events. His art permeated late 19th- and early 20th-century society, and
his work featured proud Native Americans, bold adventurers, angry bears,
starving cattle, buffalo skulls, round-ups, and hold-ups.
Russell was greatly helped in his work by his wife, Nancy Cooper.
When they married in 1896, only a few of his works had been reproduced
nationally, and he was unsure of his ability to earn a living with his
art. Nancy Russell recognized her husband's talent and promise, and
provided the business sense and drive that eventually made her
self-deprecating husband one of America's most popular artists.
Russell's emergence in the big-time art world came in 1911 with a
one-man show at a New York gallery, followed three years later by an
exhibition in London.