Charles M. Russell: The Women in His Life and Art

C.M. Russell Museum Exhibition Dates: May 18 – September 30, 2018
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West Exhibition Dates: November 1, 2018 − April 14, 2019

The American West is traditionally thought of as a man’s world, a view that has been maintained and glorified by generations of novelists and artists who have staked their careers on interpreting and visualizing the west. While Charles M. Russell is recognized as one of the premier interpreters of that masculine domain, it is one that has overshadowed the artist’s portrayals of women in the west, a subject which spans the entirety of his career. Russell depicted a surprisingly large number of women fulfilling an expansive range of western roles. Some of these roles—white women as pioneer wives, captives of hostile Indians, or prostitutes; Indian women as exotic sex objects and domestic drudges—conform to the pervasive stereotypes and artistic trends of his time. However, Russell’s experience and observation in the late nineteenth-century west encouraged more nuanced and action-oriented depictions of women than did many of his contemporaries, and he often incorporated female subjects in his ongoing commentary on progress and change in the West and its effects on western people.

Since the late 1970s, women have received increasing attention from historians of the American West. This trend corresponds to curators’ and art historians’ growing interest in female artists of the West as demonstrated in exhibitions such as Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945 (Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 1995), Tough by Nature: Portraits of Cowgirls and Ranch Women of the American West (Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, 2012), and Madonnas of the Prairie: Depictions of Women in the American West (Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, 2015). In regard to Russell scholarship, the classic study on the artist’s portrayals of women is Ginger K. Renner’s essay “Charlie Russell and the Ladies in His Life,” which appeared in Montana: The Magazine of Western History in 1984. While Renner’s work laid a comprehensive, well-illustrated foundation for future scholars, many of whom incorporated her insights on women into their own Russell narratives, there has yet to be another such sustained examination of Russell and the women in his art.

Charles M. Russell: The Women in His Life and Art represents an exciting way to honor Ginger Renner’s previous work by expanding and deepening twenty-first century scholarship of Russell’s art in this worthy area of inquiry. This exhibition will examine Russell’s life and work in the context of the women who encouraged his creativity and helped shape his career. From his mother and paternal grandmother to his wife, close friends, and professional colleagues, the women who surrounded Russell helped shape his artistic vision of the West as well as his conception of the place of women within it. Many of the women closest to him played the role of muse, inflecting his art in their capacity as models, tastemakers, and partners in dreaming. It is the substance and character of these women, along with the cultural trends, mores, and views of women typically associated with the turn-of-the-century America that have shaped the artwork of Charles M. Russell.

Charles M. Russell: The Women in His Life and Art features 60 works in oil, watercolor, pen and ink and bronze by Charles Russell that span the length of his career from 1890 to 1926, and several additional works by notable artists who influenced his depictions of women. We have enlisted a range of voices to bring Russell and the Ladies into reality. The exhibition is co-curated by Joan Carpenter Troccoli, Curator Emeritus at the Denver Museum of Art, and Emily Crawford Wilson, Curator of the C.M. Russell Museum. An accompanying catalogue to the exhibition will feature three new essays—by Troccoli, Wilson, and Jennifer Bottomly O’looney of the Montana Historical Society—with a foreword by Brian Dippie, Emeritus Professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and commentary from Nancy Russell’s unpublished biography selected and annotated by Thomas Petrie, Board Chair of the C.M. Russell Museum.

Indian Country: The Art of David Bradley

Opening Fall 2018

David Bradley (b. 1954), Minnesota Chippewa, creates narrative artworks which tell stories and histories not often heard by non-Native people nor understood from a Native American perspective. Saturated with a powerful Native voice and evocative visual descriptions of Indian experience, Bradley’s artworks depict historical, social, and political truths, personal narrative, and cultural critique. In Bradley’s narratives of Indian Country, Native people take center stage in world art and history.

Through his artwork he challenges stereotypes about Native American people, places, and events we think we understand, revealing the indigenous experiences at the core of what it means to be American. As Bradley has said, “I try to use my art to spotlight the Indian worldview and sociopolitical realities. To expose social injustice is to begin to overcome it.” As a young man.just out of the Peace Corps, Bradley came to the American Southwest to study art at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and received his BA in Fine Arts from The College of Santa Fe in 1980.

For more than 30 years he has lived and worked in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the qualities of light and color in his work shows the influence of the thin and dry high ­desert air. While the decorative color, patterned surfaces, and an overall flatness and linearity of his paintings highlights biting content which he tempers with humor and irony, Bradley’s mixed media works are more visceral ventures into the painful history of Native American lives. Exhibition curator Valerie Verzuh says of the artist, “David Bradley is a painter of keen sensitivity and intelligence with a singular vision and Native American voice. He redirects the gaze of American life by depicting daily lives, thoughts, and histories from an Indian point of view. Through his artwork he confronts his world with paradox, incongruity, irony, and humor.”

Indian Country: The Art of David Bradley contains approximately 25 paintings, 6 sculptures, and several personal items pertinent to his work. A fully illustrated, four-color companion publication with 77 color images is available. In addition to a statement by the artist and curator is a forward by Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee), an advocate for American Indian rights, poet, writer, lecturer, curator, and policy advocate, who was named by President Obama on November 10, 2014 as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

Bradley has received numerous awards and fellowships, including recognition as the only artist to win the top awards in both the Fine Art categories of painting and sculpture at the Santa Fe Indian Market. He was also awarded the Southwestern Association of Indian Art Fellowship in 1980 and the Minnesota Chippewa Art Award for Merit in Art in 1979, among several others. He has exhibited his work throughout the nation, including the Plains Indian Museum in Wyoming, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Plains Art Museum in Fargo, the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Armory for the Arts in Santa Fe, the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the American Indian Art Invitational in Lima, Peru, and many others. His work is in the permanent collections of various museums throughout the United States.

Russell House and Studio Exhibit

Opening March 2019

While Russell’s works appear in collections throughout the United States, the C.M. Russell Museum is a unique opportunity for visitors to connect with Charlie as an artist, husband, and friend. The museum includes not just interpretive exhibits and art galleries, but Russell’s studio, the house he and Nancy Russell built, and the gallery addition to the studio. In 2017, the C.M. Russell Museum secured funding through an NEH Planning Grant to re-envision these spaces and how they relate to the broader museum experience. The museum convened a panel of humanities advisors to serve as content resources for the project, and contracted with Split Rock Studios to complete the initial design for these new exhibits.

At their best, exhibits provide transformative experiences for visitors—they evoke emotions, spark curiosity, and prompt behavioral changes after visits. To create these kinds of experiences, Split Rock Studios designs interactive exhibit components, immersive spaces, and multisensory moments. When considering content, they prioritize stories that help visitors develop connections between different ideas and content that is relevant to visitors’ lives. The goal is to inspire visitors to continue learning and engaging with the world after their visit, not to inundate them with too much content during their visit. This exhibit will be guided by three principles:

  1. Create interactive and participatory experiences for visitors of all ages
  2. Design immersive and authentic historic spaces
  3. Prioritize meaningful and relevant content and storylines

The Russell House and Studio set the museum apart and provide a unique opportunity for visitors to commune with Charlie the artist and gain a deeper understanding of Charlie and Nancy’s marriage and partnership. The exhibition plan will continue to evolve until the opening in March 2019, and we’ll keep you posted on our progress.

For information on sponsoring these exhibitions, please contact Kelcy Wedekind, Donor Engagement Manager: 406-727-8787 ext. 322, kwedekind@cmrussell.org.


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