Vision and Mission
Sharing Russell’s West with excellence is the vision of the C.M. Russell Museum. Located in Great Falls, Montana, the museum’s mission is to “collect, preserve, research, interpret, and educate on the art and life of Charles M. Russell; the art and lives of his contemporaries; and the art of preceding and ensuing generations that depicts and focuses on the culture, life, and country of Russell’s West.” The Russell is a major repository of art, artifacts, and archival materials associated with Charles Marion Russell and other significant Western artists. The museum is nationally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).
Museum History and Background
The C.M. Russell Museum traces its origins to July 4, 1930, when the artist’s log cabin studio and gallery addition opened as the Russell Memorial, operated by the city of Great Falls in a newly created Russell Memorial Park. The first museum of Western art in the United States, the C.M. Russell Museum Complex has grown substantially over the past eighty-six years with considerable support from the residents of Great Falls and Montana and with backing from individual patrons and collectors from across the United States and around the world. Today, the C.M. Russell Museum Complex fills an entire city block and encompasses 65,000 square feet of exhibition galleries and educational programming spaces. The museum complex includes the Russells’ original house and studio, a National Historic Landmark, the Frederic G. Renner Archives and Research Library, Candace and Jim Fish, Sr., Discovery Gallery, and the Charlie Russell Riders Outdoor Sculpture Garden.
Because the collections of the museum span Russell’s entire lifetime and include the artist’s home and studio, the C.M. Russell Museum Complex is the only place in the world where members and guests can experience a total immersion in the art and stories of Charles M. Russell. Russell’s artistic subjects were based on Western history and traditions and his personal experience, reflecting themes of Northern Plains Indian life, cowboy culture, and wildlife.
In total, the museum collections number 13,080 objects, including 3,184 examples of fine art, 2,659 archival documents, 2,634 photographs, 1,818 books and periodicals, 1,104 studio props, 767 objects associated with the Russell house, 601 ethnographic objects, 159 firearms, and 154 pieces of ephemera. Collections associated with Charles M. Russell include 402 drawings, 243 sculptures, 156 letters, 121 watercolors, and 52 oil paintings. Other artists represented in the collections are O. C. Seltzer, Winold Reiss, Joseph H. Sharp, E. E. Heikka, Maynard Dixon, E. I. Couse, Olaf Wieghorst, Henry Farny, and Frank Tenney Johnson.
In 2015, the museum hosted 33,082 visitors from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, armed forces bases the world over, and 19 non-U.S. countries. The museum has over 1,000 members. Membership increased 10.5% in 2015. Forty percent of the museum’s members are from Great Falls, 25 percent reside elsewhere in Montana, 32 percent live in the United States (outside of Montana), two percent live in Canada, and one percent live in other nations. The Trigg-C.M. Russell Foundation Board of Directors is comprised of twenty-seven active members, seven emeritus members, and one academic member. The museum has a full-time equivalent of thirty staff members, 239 active volunteers, and an operating budget of $2,119,552.
Russell’s log studio was built adjacent to his home in 1903. Made of western red cedar telephone poles, the studio is filled with authentic cowboy gear and Indian artifacts that Russell collected and used when he painted and sculpted.
The Charles M. Russell home is a blue, two-story frame house built in 1900 for $800. It is furnished with period pieces as well as items from the Russell family. When it was built, it was located in the most fashionable district in Great Falls.
The Museum Store features museum-quality gifts, collectables, books, and clothing. The store provides mail-order service and can ship items anywhere in the world.
The Discovery Gallery provides an interactive space for families and children of all ages to explore Russell’s art and life in the Old West. It features period props, art activities, a fur-trade store, Indian Village, and chuck wagon.