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Charles M. Russell: Storyteller Across Media


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At the heart of Charles Marion Russell’s art is storytelling. Over his more than forty-year career, Russell chronicled his beloved west through the stories he told across paper, canvas, bronze, and truly any material he could find. Beyond his skill in crafting visual narratives which endeared Russell to friends, contemporaries, and audiences, he was also an inimitable raconteur.

The great humorist Will Rogers who became friends with Russell in the 1920s wrote the following about his storytelling abilities, “He was a great story-teller. Bret Hart, Mark Twain or any of our old traditions couldn’t paint a word picture with the originality that Charlie could. He could take a short little yarn and make a production out of it.”

From his early days telling stories around the campfire as a night herder to his practice of illustrating correspondence to close friends, Russell spun yarns from his own experiences and imagination, imbued with color and humor. The popular novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote of her experience with him on a trip through Glacier National Park in 1915, “To repeat one of his stories would be desecration. No one but Charley Russell himself, speaking through his nose, with his magnificent head outlined against the firelight, will ever be able to tell one of his stories.”

Though Russell was one of the most successful artists in the 1920s, thanks in no small part to the efforts of his wife and manager, Nancy Russell, he humbly valued his friendships above all else. His infectious humor, gift of narrative, and illustrated “paper talk” letters show a very personal side of the artist. While Russell made art that was for sale, he also made many works that were intended for close friends, as well as thank you notes for both gifts and hospitality received on travels. A group of works made specifically as part of his friendship with certain individuals will be featured in the exhibit. Other highlights of the more than 30 artworks on view include the artist’s sketch box and a sculpture self-portrait made of wax and mixed media – both on loan from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.