Behind the Brush: the Art and Life of C.M. Russell

Symposium: Behind the Brush: the Art and Life of C.M. Russell

Saturday, May 6, 2017
9:00 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.
Check-in begins at 8:30 a.m.

Gilcrease Museum, with its collection of art by Charles M. Russell (1864-1926) and the Russell Research Collection, today has the most comprehensive assemblage of material related to the famed western artist in existence.

The symposium will feature talks by scholars who consider the life, art and memory of Russell, one of the West’s most iconic artists. A uniquely American voice, Russell’s brilliance came from the authenticity that he projected through his art, his close association with the natural world, and his innate ability to understand human nature. While popular sentiment links Russell to the mythological Old West, to reduce his life and work to the anecdotal and romanticized is to overlook some of the most intriguing connections within and inspirations for his art. Revealed through a careful examination of his paintings, photographs and letters, experts will bring to life new stories surrounding the cowboy artist’s life and work as they share fascinating and unexplored aspects of how the art of storytelling defined and shaped one man and his artistic legacy. The papers presented will be edited and organized into a single volume that will significantly add to the corpus of information available about Russell’s life and work.

Featured Speakers

Michael Duchemin, Ph.D., Executive Director, Briscoe Western Art Museum
Title: “Remembering Charlie: Nancy Cooper Russell and the Art of Memorialization”
Topic: Michael explores the ways in which Nancy Cooper Russell worked with friends and neighbors to memorialize her husband, Charles Marion Russell, after he passed on October 24, 1926. During the years before his death, Charlie and Nancy discussed what would become of the world-renowned artist’s log cabin studio. She worked to conserve the Russell House and Studio and to maintain the same as a memorial and museum dedicated to the Cowboy Artist. Together the studio and gallery addition opened as the Charles M. Russell Memorial on July 4, 1930; the first museum dedicated to Western art in the United States.
Bio: Coming soon

Emily Wilson, M.A., Assistant Curator, C.M. Russell Museum
Title: “Embodied Art: C.M. Russell and the Performance of ‘Ah-Wa-Cous'”
Topic: Emily focuses on Russell’s role-playing and performance art. According to Emily, Russell’s role-playing is an embodied appreciation of Plains Indian culture, expressed through the creation of gesture, art, and imagery.
Bio: Emily holds a Master of Arts degree in art history from Indiana University. She has contributed to several publications, including Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley (2016, University of Oklahoma Press).

Holly Witchey, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Department of Art History and Art, Case Western Reserve University
Title: “Charles M. Russell: American Humorist Extraordinaire”
Topic: Charles M. Russell’s life coincides with a particularly evocative period in the evolution of American humor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the life and works of better-known American humorists of the time (e.g. Bret Hart, Artemus Ward, and Mark Twain) there is a characteristic emphasis on “how” the story is told which is as important as the contents of the story. The humorist is indistinguishable from his humor. Charlie Russell, with his multiplicity of skills as an artist, writer, and raconteur embodies American humor in a way that is distinct because he does it across so many different media.
Bio: Holly Witchey has a Ph.D. in European Painting and Sculpture and twenty-five years of experience as a museum professional. She teaches museum studies online for Johns Hopkins University, and traditional museum studies at CWRU where she is adjunct faculty in the Department of Art History and Art. In October 2016 she joined the EdFutures team as Senior Fellow for Museums.

Byron Price, Ph.D., Director, C.M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West, University of Oklahoma
Title: “C.M. Russell in California”
Bio: Price is also the editor of Charles M. Russell: A Catalogue Raisonné (2007), which won the 2007 Western Heritage Award for the best art book of the year from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the 2008 Caughey-Western History Association Prize for best book of the year in western history. His research at the Helmerich Center focused on C.M. Russell’s time in Hollywood, his connections in the entertainment industry, and the influence that California had on his work.

Jodie Utter, Paper Conservator, Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Title: “Constant Motion: the Drawings of Charles M. Russell”
Topic: A common belief about Charles Russell was that he was entirely self-taught, thereby completely free from formal instruction and operated using his raw talent alone.  This romantic notion is not entirely accurate.  Two Russell sketchbooks, one owned by the Amon Carter Museum and the other by the Gilcrease Museum will be examined in this study to explore how Russell would sketch and draw in preparation for his finished compositions, thus revealing the patterns and techniques in his drawings.
Bio: Jodie Utter is the conservator of works on paper for the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.  She has worked in paper conservation as a technician, contract conservator, sole proprietor, and staff conservator in private practice and in institutions for the past twenty-five years.  She holds a graduate degree from the Art Conservation Program at Winterthur/University of Delaware.  She has worked for the MFA in Boston, Harvard University, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.  In addition, she has taught numerous classes and workshops and given lectures on conservation, preservation, and historic artists’ materials.  Utter has conducted extensive research on the watercolor materials and techniques of Charles M. Russell, resulting in numerous lectures, articles and a technical study published in the definitive book Charles M. Russell, Watercolors 1887-1926.  Her study was awarded the American Institute for Conservation 2016 Publication Award for excellence in writing on conservation topics.

Utter is a fellow of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).  She serves as the Education chair for the Book and Paper Group (BPG) for AIC and is also on the AIC Nominating Committee.  She is a member of the Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC), the Midwest Regional Conservation Guild (MRCG), and the American Society of Trace Evidence Examiners (ASTEE).

Paul Zalis and Gus Chambers, Writers/Producers, Montana PBS
Presentation: The Making of the CM Russell Documentary


Seating is limited, and registration is required.

Tickets: $25/Gilcrease Museum members; $40/not-yet-members
Lunch option: $20

Optional Lunch Menu

Gilcrease Salad
Southwest Grilled Chicken with Cajun Trinity
Lemon Pepper Catfish with Grilled Lemon
Roasted Red Potatoes with Herbs
Vegetable Medley
Berry Cobbler

For more information, please contact Natalie Panther at 918-631-6414, or