Located in Great Falls, Montana, the C.M. Russell Museum is an art museum complex preserving the historic home, log cabin studio, and works of artist Charles Marion Russell, along with other notable works depicting the history and landscape of the American West. Born on March 19, 1864, St. Louis, Missouri native Charles Marion Russell, also known as “Kid” Russell and the “Cowboy Artist,” was a major visual, literary, and oral narrative artist of the Old American West.
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Throughout his career, he produced more than 4,000 oil and watercolor paintings depicting the cowboys, indigenous tribes, and other cultural icons of the American West, as well as the landscapes of Alberta, Canada. He also created large collections of bronze sculptures and short stories depicting prominent figures and typical events of the Old American West. Through the marketing efforts of his wife, Nancy, Russell became an international art icon during his lifetime. In addition to his iconic action and battle scenes of cowboy and native figures, Russell was known for his complex and challenging depictions of female sexuality, using depictions of indigenous women as sexually active and empowered to circumvent standards of female prudency in 19th and 20th century Western culture. Posthumous auction sales of his works have totaled up to $5.6 million for the 2005 sale of his painting Piegans, and his piece Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians currently hangs in the Montana state capitol building.
During his career, Russell became friends with Emma Josephine Trigg, a public school art teacher and librarian who was married to book publisher W.T. Ridgley, who printed several of Russell’s collections of short stories. Trigg’s father, Albert, was the owner of local bar Brunswick Saloon, where Russell also frequented and held art studio facilities within the bar’s back rooms. In the early 1900s, Russell built a two-story clapboard home and log cabin studio near the Trigg property, and he and his wife Nancy remained close friends with Emma and Albert for the remainder of their lives. After Russell’s death in 1926, many of his pieces were sold at auction, but collections maintained by the Trigg family were donated to the city of Great Falls upon Emma’s death, with the stipulation that they be housed within a museum collection. Following a $75,000 fundraising drive, the Trigg-Russell Gallery opened to the public in September of 1953. In conjunction with major gallery expansions, the museum was renamed the C.M. Russell Museum in 1972.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the museum houses a collection of more than 2,000 art works and memorabilia connected to Russell, including artwork materials and other artifacts connected to his career and production. More than 37,000 annual visitors attend the museum’s 76,000 square feet of gallery space, which also showcases collections of works by other historic and contemporary artists depicting the Old American West. As one of the foremost museums of Western art in the United States, the museum is owned and operated by the Trigg-C.M. Russell Foundation, a private nonprofit organization governed by a five-officer board of directors.
The Josephine Trigg Collection serves as the basis for the museum’s collections, including more than 150 rare oil and watercolor paintings, illustrated letters, postcards, and clay models created by Russell. Five galleries throughout the museum display Russell’s work, including the Charles M. Russell: The Legacy of America’s Cowboy Artist exhibit, which rotates works into a chronological display of the artist’s paintings, bronzes, models, and illustrations. Additionally, the Bison: American Icon Gallery examines the culture of Northern Plains indigenous people and the animals they hunted, and the Browning Firearms Collection showcases rifles and pistols produced by the Browning Firearms Company, highlighting the history of the weaponry depicted in Russell’s works.
In addition to the museum’s gallery space, the Trigg-C.M. Russell Foundation also owns and operates the historic Russell log cabin studio and two-story wood frame home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Following a dispute with the National Park Service, the home and studio were torn down to accommodate the museum’s construction and relocated to a nearby site on the museum’s grounds in 1973. Though notable changes were made to the home and cabin upon their relocation, they retain much of their historic appearance and are furnished with period-appropriate items, including original items owned by the Russells. Tours of the facilities are available May through September.
Ongoing Programs and Education
In addition to guided and self-guided tour opportunities for student groups and organizations, the C.M. Russell Museum hosts a variety of art classes throughout the year for students of all ages. Internship and scholarship opportunities are available for artists, including the Anne Morand Memorial Scholarship Fund, which awards $5,000 annually to a promising area high school art student. The museum’s Frederic G. and Ginger K. Renner Research Center contains more than 3,000 volumes on the art and history of the Old American West and is available by appointment for students and researchers. Major public special events include the museum’s internationally-acclaimed annual “The Russell” art auction, which serves as its main fundraising drive.
400 13th St N, Great Falls, MT 59401, Phone: 406-727-8787