The End of Summer is Sold at Auction
reat Falls, Montana is one of those cities you hear about when you are studying the Lewis & Clark expedition and the many travails they experienced along the Missouri River, but you would probably never go there for the weekend. But it happens to be the final resting place of the great 19th century cowboy painter, Charles Russell and is now the home of the museum bearing his name. I was invited me to come last weekend to their annual art auction where one of my recent paintings was exhibited and was to be sold.
I have been in 47 of the states in the U.S. and Montana is one of the three remaining, so this was a marked occasion for me. Checking this one off my list turned out to be a very enjoyable trip I will never forget.
Last September I was encouraged to enter a painting in the annual show that is held to raise funds for the C.M. Russell Museum. I was quite pleased when my egg tempera piece, The End of Summer, was accepted. After flying out last Thursday, I mingled with the hundreds of artists and guests to preview the show and was overwhelmed at the number of paintings hanging in the museum that represents the tremendous quality of realistic work available from some of the top western artists in the country today. I was humbled to be showing my work among this esteemed group.
Dedicated to Charles M. Russell and other significant Western artists, the museum holds over 3,000 pieces of fine art in its permanent collection in addition to documents, photographs, books, firearms, and collected pieces that represent the old west and Western art. It also includes the artist’s log cabin studio and gallery addition and encompasses 65,000 square feet of space for exhibition and education.
The auction took place Friday and Saturday nights and was well attended with over 500 art collectors ready to buy. I have to admit, I got a rush of nerves when my painting was announced and the young lady walked out on stage holding it up for all to see. The bidding was brisk and the auctioneer was animated. The price kept going up, and before the auctioneer yelled “sold”, it had reached $5,000. By the time the weekend was over, the museum took in over $6.3 million in sales.
While selling my painting was my primary purpose for participating in The Russell, I was also there to meet many people involved in the world of art and especially artists whose work is highly valued. The city of Great Falls has hosted art shows on this weekend for over 45 years and for this short time, the city seems caught up in western art. Several local hotels empty out guest rooms so that artists can set up and show and buyers come from all over to see and buy great paintings and sculptures. Galleries take over the larger spaces and also display works for sale while cowboy bands blare out the tunes for the many patrons who love the music.
The Russell also hosted an event called "Artists in Action" where potential buyers could watch selected artists finish up a painting, frame it, then offer it in a private auction where 100% of the proceeds would benefit the museum. Famed artist/illustrator C. Michael Dudash, Joe Kronenberg, Jill Soukup, and the very popular Andy Thomas where among the painters who set up easels and chatted while guests sipped complementary beverages at the Meadow Lark Country Club.
There is no shortage of cowboy boots and hats in Great Falls on a weekend like this. This is western art in its prime. The very affable Chairman of the Board, Christina Blackwell suggested to me however, that the genre should accept a name change to more ably reflect why so many people are attracted to it. “Western Art is not the right name for it,” she said. “Instead it should be called, ‘The Art of Western Living.’”
I really enjoyed being in Great Falls this weekend and even if I do not own a cowboy hat, I think she is right.