January 23, 2018

C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana

C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana, Montana Vacation Blog

The C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, is the home of one of the most complete collections of Charles M. Russell (1864-1926) art and memorabilia in the world. It maintains approximately 2,000 artworks by Russell, as well as personal belongings and archival materials. The permanent collection of more than 12,000 objects also includes the works of such well-known artists as O. C. Seltzer, Winold Reiss, J. H. Sharp, E. E. Heikka, E. I. Couse, Olaf Wieghorst, Henry Farny, and Frank Tenney Johnson. The Browning Firearms Collection and The Bison: American Icon, Heart of Plains Indian Culture round out the museum’s outstanding exhibitions and offerings. The museum also hosts nationally acclaimed visiting temporary exhibitions year round.

In 1953, the C.M. Russell Museum opened in a single small gallery housing the personal Russell collection of Josephine Trigg, a close friend and neighbor of the Russell family.  The museum subsequently underwent expansions in 1969, 1985, and 2001 to reach its current capacity of approximately 70,000 square feet.  The museum campus now occupies a full city block that includes Charles M. Russell’s home and log studio. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the C.M. Russell Museum is one of the premier attractions in Montana.

Located on the museum complex is Russell’s blue two-story frame home built in 1900. It has been beautifully preserved for the enjoyment of museum visitors. Russell’s log cabin studio, made of western red cedar telephone poles and built in 1903, is adjacent to his home.  Here you can view the setting where Charlie created many of his significant works. The home and studio together were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926), The Exalted Ruler, 1912, oil on canvas (C.M. Russell Museum, gift of Friends of The Exalted Ruler ), C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana, Montana Vacation Blog

Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926), The Exalted Ruler, 1912, oil on canvas (C.M. Russell Museum, gift of Friends of The Exalted Ruler )

The Russell: An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C.M. Russell Museum is held annually in March and is a fine art exhibition and the signature fundraiser for the museum. Through supporting events and materials, The Russell provides an educational component for the public and allows the Russell Museum to become a more financially stable institution in order to carry out its mission. Western Art Week has been taking place in Great Falls, Montana, since 1969.

The mission of the C.M. Russell Museum is to collect, preserve, research, interpret, and educate on the art and life of Charles M. Russell; the art and lives of his contemporaries; and the art of preceding and ensuing generations that depicts and focuses on the culture, life, and country of Russell’s West.

For more information on the C.M. Russell Museum and current hours and exhibitions, call 406-727-8787 or visit www.cmrussell.org.

Charles Marion Russell (1864–1926), The Jerkline, 1912, oil (C.M. Russell Museum, gift of Fred Birch), C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana, Montana Vacation Blog

Charles Marion Russell (1864–1926), The Jerkline, 1912, oil (C.M. Russell Museum, gift of Fred Birch)


Charles Marion Russell (1864–1926) was many things: consummate Westerner, historian, advocate of the Northern Plains Indians, cowboy, writer, outdoorsman, philosopher, environmentalist, conservationist, and not least, artist. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Russell dreamed of becoming a cowboy and living the exciting life of men on the range. In 1880, Russell came to the Judith Basin of central Montana a few days after his 16th birthday to try his hand as a cowpuncher. After a brief, unsuccessful stint on a sheep ranch, Jake Hoover, a hunter and trader, took Russell under his wing and taught him the ways of the wilderness. Russell spent two years as Hoover’s apprentice, working with and living in Hoover’s cabin on the South Fork of the Judith River.

In 1882, Russell finally secured a job as a night herder with several cattle outfits operating in the Judith Basin.  This was the perfect job for the young artist because it gave him the opportunity during the day to observe, sketch, and document the activities and excitement of the cow camps. He worked as a cowboy and wrangler for 11 years before retiring in 1883 to become a full-time artist.

Russell greatly admired the Northern Plains Indians, closely observing their ways during summer of 1888, when he lived near the camps of the Blackfeet, Piegan, and Blood Indians in Alberta, Canada. This experience affected him for the rest of his life, and it is reflected in the many detailed works he created of Plains Indian life.

In 1896, Russell married Nancy Cooper, and she quickly assumed the role of business manager and promoter of her husband’s career.  In 1900, the couple built a modest frame house in Great Falls and, three years a later, a log studio that Russell filled with his collection of Indian clothing, utilitarian objects, weapons, cowboy gear, “horse jewelry,” and other Western props useful in depicting scenes of the Old West. Russell completed the majority of his significant works in the studio. In 1916, Charlie and Nancy adopted their son, Jack. Russell died of congestive heart failure in his Great Falls home on October 24, 1926.

By the early 1900s, Charlie Russell had become an internationally known artist, yet he opted to spend his entire life after the age of 16 in Montana.  His love of Montana and the life he observed and participated in there shaped his art and his personal philosophy for 46 years. 

Russell created approximately 4,000 works of art during his lifetime. His art is first and foremost that of a storyteller, and it was informed by his remarkable ability to capture in paint, bronze, ink, and wax the personalities and events of his time and place. He was the first “Western” artist to live the majority of his life in the West. For this reason, Charlie knew his subject matter intimately, setting the standard for many Western artists to follow.

Charles Marion Russell in his log studio, C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana, Montana Vacation Blog

Charles in his log studio

{This post was submitted courtesy of the C.M. Russell Museum.}

Note that the museum does change to WINTER HOURS from October until May, so be sure to plan ahead if you want to visit during these months!!

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