Don’t fence him: In Fort Worth & Great Falls, Charles M. Russell gets new look


Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), “Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia,” 1905. Opaque and transparent watercolor over graphite underdrawing on paper. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1961.195.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2012, 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on the Arts Voyager on February 10, 2012. To learn more about current efforts by American Indians to protect the Missouri, click here.

FORT WORTH, TX & GREAT FALLS, MT — While it might have once seemed laudatory to describe Charles M. Russell as “the cowboy artist” — and perhaps still is in places like Fort Worth, which refers to itself as “cowtown” with pride — the term needs to be qualified for audiences outside of the West who might use it to dismiss Russell’s oeuvre and place him in a quadrant reserved for “folk” art. That this would be a mistake is the most revelatory contribution of Romance Maker: The Watercolors of Charles M. Russell, which runs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth February 11 – May 13 before moving to the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls June 15 – September 15. Much as the more than 100 watercolors from 20 collections on rare display — their sensitivity to light means watercolors can only be brought out on average one month per year — serve as an epoch epic of the West, a vivid panorama of both American Indian and American settler and pioneer life and society, they also reveal the depths of craft the self-schooled Russell conjured and developed.

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