Charlie Russell Roundup
Charlie Russell Essays Reveal Much about the Cowboy Artist
The work of Montana's cowboy artist Charlie Russell speaks for itself.
However, a collection of essays both amusing and insightful released in a new book by the Montana Historical Society Press brings readers closer than ever before to the man whose legend has been shaped by the words of fans and critics alike.
Charlie Russell Roundup: Essays on America's Favorite Cowboy Artist was edited by Brian Dippie, who has long researched Russell's life and work, and written several books on him including Paper Talk: Charlie Russell's American West that was featured by History Book Club.
"The selections in Charlie Russell Roundup provide a wealth of detail about the man, his work, and his enduring legend," Dippie writes in his introduction to the new collection.
The essays both strip away and build on the legend of Russell who had gone from night rider on the Montana frontier to famous painter by the age of 53 in 1917, Dippie writes.
"He had quit drinking nine years before, and was an artist of international stature whose major paintings commanded as much as three thousand dollars," Dippie writes. "He had it made."
Contrasting that view, Dippie uses the description that author Frank Linderman penned to capture the Russell he knew, who was "real as a toad-stool. . .and simple as a little boy."
There are 38 essays in the new collection many of which are drawn from the pages of the Society's award-winning Montana The Magazine of Western History . The authors range from Montanans like artist Joe De Yong to Russell's internationally famous friend Will Rogers.
Russell's love affair and subsequent marriage to Nancy was described by Rogers like this: "I hear he give her his horse and he will have to marry her to get him back."
Rogers knew Nancy and her influence on Russell's career: "She said. . .I will attend to the distribution end of this enterprise. She enlarged his market from what had been purely local consumption to one which embraced two continents."
Another essay penned by Arthur Hoeber in 1911 in the New York Times offers a glimpse of Russell outside his beloved Montana as he worked on an exhibition there and another in Rome.
"Far, indeed, are those scenes from 'Charley' Russell now, as he dodges trolley cars and other wild things on his way from his apartment to the studios of fellow artists," Hoeber wrote.
Early press accounts, reminiscences by old friends, interpretive essays by Russell scholars, and a sampling of Russell's own writing provide a wide-ranging view of Russell's life.
Each essay, many of them from little-known sources compiled over the years by Dippie, brings to life a different view of Russell by authors who wrote as if they knew him.
Russell's own words in the book cast light on that as well: "I have always been what is called a good mixer—I had friends when I had nothing else."
Peter Hassrick, director of the Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West, said Dippie's selections for the new book are "astute and balanced."
"This is a collection that helps sate our voracious appetite for fresh reflections on the artist, revealing many perspectives that would no doubt amuse even Charlie himself," Hassrick said.
The 368-page book with 15 color and 49 black-and-white illustrations costs $39.95 cloth bound and $19.95 in paperback is available at bookstores across the state or can be ordered directly from the Montana Historical Society by calling toll free 1-800-243-9900.