Great Falls, MT
Various locations, March 19-21
This story was featured in the February 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
The various events and exhibitions known collectively as The Russell, unfolding across three mid-March days and evenings, are accurately summed up by its official subtitle: An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C.M. Russell Museum, an institution dedicated to the life and works of one of the premier artists of the American West. But those words don’t quite capture The Russell’s true spirit.
To discover that, ask its participants. “The Russell is like an Old West old home week,” enthuses Montana-based Carol Hagan, who’s been bringing her vibrant contemporary animal and landscape paintings since 2004. “The most unique part is all of the artists attending year after year and getting to talk about their work with all of the collectors.”
Adds Utah wildlife and western impressionist Chad Poppleton, coming for his ninth year, “It’s a great reunion, where you catch up and show pictures of your kids along with your paintings.” And, from his perspective of 29 consecutive years in The Russell, Billings-based historical western painter Charles Fritz observes, “This is our crown jewel of western art. The whole town transforms itself into an exhibition of things related to the West.”
Indeed, The Russell is also the centerpiece of a more widespread happening: Western Art Week, which virtually takes over Great Falls, as it has each year since 1969, with abundant shows and auctions during the week of Charlie Russell’s March 19 birthday.
That’s the official kickoff date for The Russell this year, as artists, collectors, and aficionados gather at the museum that Thursday evening for a preview of the many works to be auctioned. The following morning, at nearby Meadow Lark Country Club, comes Art in Action, a “quick finish” event during which 26 participating artists add finishing touches to works in progress while chatting with guests. That evening brings the casual First Strike, a live auction of works by 119 living artists selected through open-call submissions. In addition, all week, 22 artists—including Hagan, Poppleton, and Fritz—who were invited by the museum last year to become members of its elite Russell Skull Society also display and sell select works in exhibition booths at the Mansfield Convention Center.
Saturday’s happenings begin in the Missouri Room of the convention center with an educational symposium on wildlife art’s relationship to species and habitat conservation in western states. That night at the convention center comes the main event: a gala live auction of works by 116 living and 13 deceased artists, among which the most anticipated is SCOUTING PARTY, a 20-by-14-inch Russell oil dating from 1900 and featuring the legendary Blackfeet warrior White Quiver. The painting is anticipated to fetch between $900,000 and $1.3 million.
It all adds up to an ambitious undertaking, made more so by the fact that this year all of the auction pieces are on view at the museum for a full month in advance, beginning on February 19, thus bestowing on them bona-fide exhibition credit to benefit artists and buyers alike. Yet, beyond its scale, scope, and quality, this “granddaddy” of western art events, according to Michael Duchemin, the museum’s executive director, ultimately sets itself apart by “its good-natured side. Great Falls really rolls out the red carpet for folks from out of town,” he says. “That encourages people to come back, which some have been doing now for two, three, or even four decades.” —Norman Kolpas
Featured in the February 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art February 2015 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
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