GREAT FALLS – March 19 was the birthday of Charles M. Russell, who was born 153 years ago in St. Louis; it also marks the reopening of the Charlie and Nancy Russell’s original log cabin studio and partially completed gallery addition.
The C.M. Russell Museum recently completed an extensive restoration of Charlie Russell’s original log cabin studio and gallery addition.
Charlie Russell died in 1926. Two years later his wife Nancy Russell donated his log cabin studio to the City of Great Falls under the agreement that the city would also purchase the Russell’s House and three additional lots.
Now located on the C. M. Russel Museum’s grounds, the house and log cabin studio are listed together as a National Historic Landmark.
Emily Wilson, C.M. Russell Museum Assistant Curator, said, “They are the only two buildings that Russell lived and worked in that are accessible to the public.”
The sites offer visitors the experience of seeing the link between person and place, artist and studio.
John Taliaferro former Senior Editor at Newsweek Magazine, and writer of “Charles M. Russell; The Life & Legend of America’s Cowboy Artist” says conserving these sites is critical to understanding the history of Montana, and the history of the American West.
“The soul, the atmosphere, the molecules of Charlie Russell are still in this room,” explained Taliaferro
Charlie’s wife Nancy, the business driver behind his career, made sure he sold his pieces to the right people at the right price and wanted to live in a proper house in the posh neighborhood.
Russell’s log cabin studio was an oddity in the neighborhood.
Taliaferro said Russell was mildly thumbing his nose at society by building a rustic log cabin in the center of a neighborhood that was trying to embody the feel of a chic upper-class turn of the century area.
Not only was Russell’s log cabin a refuge from modernity, but an escape back to the romantic open range frontier Russell had experienced as a young 16-year-old man arriving in Montana for the first time in 1880.
The cabin was also a museum in itself. It was filled with old-time paraphernalia; saddles, Indian garments, sculptures, and many other objects to give the atmosphere an old-west spirit, and get the artists’ creative juices flowing. The materials have been inventoried, restored, and preserved.
In 1911, the roof of the Cabin was lifted to accommodate a commission from the State of Montana to paint a massive mural for the legislative chamber.
Taliaferro said Russell’s greatest masterpieces were made in the log cabin studio, and that he was illustrating the settling of the American West for the rest of the world from that space. By the time Charlie Russell died, he was the wealthiest artist in the U.S. Taliferro said many of those pieces that are selling for millions of dollars today were made in the log cabin studio.
“Charlie Russell was the master, he was the father of western art. Every western artist who’s come since has paid homage to him, so this is a holy site we’re in, and so what Great Falls has, no other place in the country has,” Taliaferro added.
Museum staff said there are plans to open an installation inside the Museum showcasing the preserved objects that were once in the log cabin studio.
The Russell Museum has recently launched a campaign to fund restoration and conservation of the nearby Russell House.
To find out how you can help with campaign click here.