Charles Marion Russell (1864 - 1926) was born on March 19th 1864 near St. Louis Missouri in a family with a history of western exploration. As a young boy he listened to stories told about his uncles who were early western traders, one, William Bent set up the trading post on the Santa Fe Trail known as Bent's Fort and another uncle, Charles Bent, was the Governor of New Mexico in 1848. Russell had an aptitude for art at an early age sculpting first in soap and bees wax then moving on to using the local clay for his sculptures. His first success with sculpture was at the age of twelve when his father had a clay model of a horse and rider cast in plaster and entered it in the St. Louis County Fair where it won a Blue Ribbon. Beset by bad grades and a lack of enthusiasm for school work young Charlie was sent to a Military School in New Jersey.
On one of his holidays from school he was allowed to travel west with a family friend in the hopes that he would return home and enter the family business. This western trip had just the opposite effect on the young sixteen year old Russell as he headed to Montana with the family friend who had a sheep ranch there. Rather than return to St. Louis, Russell bought two horses and set off for the Rockies alone. Luckily he ran into Jake Hoover a prospector, hunter, and cowboy who for the next two years taught the young Russell wilderness survival skills and introduced him to many local Indian tribes who befriended him. During the winter of 1886-1887 while working as a herder for a cattle ranch he drew a sketch of a starving steer and sent it back to the ranch owner to describe the plight of his cattle. This water color titled Waiting for a Chinook was displayed at a Helena saloon and brought him his first recognition as a local artist. While returning from Canada in 1888 Russell was invited to stay with the Blackfoot Indians for the winter. It was there that he learned the Indian language as well as Indian sign language. It was during this stay that he gained a deep knowledge and respect for Indian culture and ways and he was very tempted to stay with them permanently. He dressed in buckskins and let his hair grow long and was give the name of Ah-Wah-Cous (Antelope). He drew and sculpted their costumes, lifestyles, and made many portraits of them with uncanny accuracy. The Blackfoot helped him with his artwork by pointing out the errors that he made in their costume and weapons.
In 1893 Russell gave up working as a cowboy and devoted himself to being an artist in earnest. He met and married his wife Nancy in 1896 who would become the driving force behind him as an artist. They bought a house in Great Falls Montana and built a studio which resembled a log cabin made from telephone poles on an adjoining lot. Their first trip together to New York City in 1903 resulted in disappointment as the sale of his works were not as successful as they had hoped. Charlie spent his time back home modeling a horse with a drunken cowboy firing his gun in the air. This was to be his first successful sculpture titled Smoking Up but only six casts were made of the model and one of the sculptures he presented to President Teddy Roosevelt. Despite this and his earlier illustrations Russell was virtually unknown outside of Montana. The following year he had three bronze groups cast by Roman Bronze Works titled The Buffalo Hunt, Counting Coup, and Scalp Dance that were sold through Tiffany and Co. in New York. He continued to model and cast bronzes in limited editions because of the high cost of producing them and his limited funds. Russell modeled the wild animals of the west as well as people but his greatest fondness was for horses. All of Russell's bronzes have great character as he had the gift of sight to be able to create spontaneous models with a sense of feeling and life to them and not cold static portraits. In 1912 Russell had his second one man show in New York City and his first show in Canada. It was not until he exhibited in London in 1914 that he became an international success at last.
By 1919 the Russell's were spending their winters in Los Angeles, California where his art was very popular with the Hollywood movie stars. Nancy took over more of the business side of his work, determining what was cast and setting the prices on his sculptures completely managing his success. Charlie Russell died suddenly on October 24th 1926 of a heart attack after undergoing an operation. Many of his models were never cast in bronze during the artist's lifetime and after he died his widow continued to have certain models cast. A group of his original models and molds as well as the Russell's home in Pasadena, California were purchased by Homer Britzman from the estate of Nancy Russell. Mr. Britzman had a limited edition of these models cast by the same foundry used by Mrs. Russell and sold them only by subscription to the entire edition. It must be remember that Russell sculpted many of his models as a form of entertainment and relaxation not intending for them to be more than a pleasurable pastime and many of these small wax models he gave away to friends and admires who later had them cast in bronze to preserve his art. Whereas Remington went west and returned to become a successful artist Charles Russell lived in the west as a ranch hand drawing and sculpting daily life as he lived it and it was only late in his life that he received the recognition of the art world that he truly deserved.
The life of Charles Maion Russell is documented in the following books:
Charles M. Russell Sculptor by Rick Stewart (1994)
Bronzes of the American West by Patricia Broder (1973)
Select any Image below to see a description and more information about that Bronze