He worked as a cowboy in the Judith Basin of Montana from age 16-27, when he decided to become a full-time artist. He died in 1926, much too early, at age 62. More than 4,000 works make his an incredible legacy. The Charles M. Russell Museum has preserved his home and his log cabin studio with all the props, clothing, saddles, and accoutrements that lend his paintings authenticity. I love, love, love this museum.
He often seemed to be trying to make his friends feel better. Here's a letter to a sick friend, with drunken cowboys singing lustily:
Nice letterhead, huh? I should emulate that, something so simple and iconic. Perhaps I could draw a pile of raccoon poo full of pawpaw seeds. If I ever used letterhead anymore...it's all electrons, ma'am.
A New Year's card, wishing away the spectre of illness:
And health rides hard on you
May Dad Time be slow at snuffing your lamp
And your trail be smooth plum through.
That horse fairly breathes. I think his tail just switched.
This letter sketch completely flipped me out. Look at those horses, that action, that painting!!
Good Lord! If I ever got a letter like this...and yet when I was young and had all kinds of time, I illuminated my letters to a beloved uncle, who was confined to a nursing home, in this way. I had to stop decorating the envelopes when they started disappearing before they reached their destination. Someone in the chain of post offices took a liking to them. Kind of like stealing flowers out of someone's garden.
Charlie Russell's illuminated letters are compiled in a brand new book, available on the C. M. Russell Museum's web site. Mmm. Christmas.
Liam stood rooted before this exquisite drawing of a shaman calling up three white buffalo. We felt shivers pass right through us. It was as if no time had passed at all.
He fought and died for his country.
Today he has no vote
No country and is not a citizen
But history will not forget him.
Charles M. Russell, Jan. 5, 1914
It hasn't been such a long time, after all.