UPDATE [March 10, 2020]: Western Art Week is still happening! The Russell decided to postpone their events for a later date. All other shows are still participating in this fun and unique annual event. We will update you with The Russell’s new dates when we know!
Private planes, neon lights, and runway shows. It’s the glamorous side of Western Art Week. People from all over come to Great Falls, Montana to celebrate famed Charlie Russell’s birthday in March and pay some hefty prices to take home western art. We polled our Instagram users, asking if they wanted more information about modern or western art, and western art won. Perfect timing if you ask me. The C. M. Russell Museum would be the best stop.
To be honest, I’ve never been to the C. M. Russell Museum since I moved here in April of 2019. It wasn’t on the list of priorities of places to visit because I wanted to do all the outdoor activities I could. However, when I started my tour with Duane at the Russell, I quickly realized I should have made this museum one of my first stops when arriving in Great Falls.
Arriving at the C. M. Russell, you may think you are lost. You’re in a residential area, but you’ll quickly realize you’re in the right place when you see the large museum on the corner. Because I was touring the museum outside of regular business hours, I didn’t have any issues parking. However, if you visit when there are more guests, there are plenty of parking areas surrounding the museum.
I met with Jessica, The Executive Assistant, before meeting with Duane. She is in charge of the Russell Runway Show during Western Art Week, which showcases renowned fashion and jewelry designers from Montana and across the country. This year, El Wencho will be playing, and did someone say mimosas? (Note to self, make Jessica my best friend and go to the runway show). Jessica and I stopped at Ben Pease‘s oil painting, a part of The Russell’s Live Auction, Apsáalooke Pipe Carrier “Two Leggings — Iisáatxaluaásh.” The oil painting is striking and dramatic. I fell in love with it immediately. Then I saw the estimated price for the auction and realized, I may be the person that just gets to enjoy it during the exhibit and not hang in on my wall at home.
After walking around and talking with Jessica, I met Duane, The Director of Art and Philanthropy. Duane is from Great Falls and grew up knowing all there is to know about Charlie Russell. I, on the other hand, grew up in Wisconsin and only new a few trivia pieces about Charlie Russell. During my hour with Duane, I learned so much about western art and Charlie Russell, and I didn’t even see the entire museum. I was completely engulfed in the experience and loved every minute of it.
The first piece that Duane talked about with me was Michael Blessing‘s mixed media art piece. It is an original oil painting, but Michael added neon lights to his piece And Hell’s Comin’ with Me. The neon wasn’t lit when we first arrived because the museum was still getting everything situated for the auction. The hustle of preparing for Western Art Week was definitely in the air. The longer I was at the museum, the more I realized how fortunate I was for this opportunity. But when Duane turned the neon on, wowzas. I quickly realized that this wasn’t your grandfather’s Western Art Show. (Duane’s tagline and not mine, but I wish I was the one that said it).
Close to Michael Blessing’s art was another mixed media art piece that was, well…just plain cool. Ben Steele‘s Drop Me a Line looks like an extremely large etch a sketch of Charlie Russell. In reality, it is an oil painting, and an automotive manufacture made the etch a sketch frame precisely for this piece.
After viewing the items up for auction during Western Art Week, Duane took me to see some of Russell’s pieces that are always on display at the museum. If you haven’t noticed by now, I am not the best at describing art. But Duane is. After looking at Russell’s piece The Fire Boat and Duane explaining the significance of the hand gestures and the boat itself, Duane continued by saying:
“We are always excited to expand audiences’ definitions and preconceptions of western art. Charlie had an incredible ability to exaggerate light in his paintings to electrify his subjects. Plugging in Michael Blessing’s mixed media neon does the same thing, literally. It is great to have both under the same roof.”
I cannot wait for Western Art Week, March 18-22nd, 2020. There will be over 15 shows, 800 artists, live music, dancing, auctions, runways, and yes, mimosas.
Fun fact: If you are completing the Buffalo Hunt, you’ll find two of the buffalos at the C. M. Russell.
Mari is the Content Director for Great Falls Montana Tourism. She is a Wisconsin native, USAF veteran, and forever student. She likes dad jokes and exploring Great Falls. You can find her on our Instagram and Facebook where she shares art and adventure happening in basecamp.
If you have an inside scoop or fun, personal experience of Great Falls and the nearby area, let her know!
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