Charles M. Russell
Photographing the Legend
The Charles M. Russell Center Series on Art and Photography of the American West
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
328 Pages | 10 x 12 | 344 b&w & color illus.
Almost as familiar as the images of the American West he painted and sculpted is the figure of Charles M. Russell himself. Standing or mounted, in boots and wide-brimmed hat, sash knotted at his waist, gaze steady under a hank of unruly hair: he is the one and only "Cowboy Artist." What is not so well known is the story that unfolds in the myriad photographs of Russell, pictures that document a remarkable life while also reflecting the evolution of photography and the depiction of the American West at the turn of the twentieth century. This biography makes use of hundreds of images of Russell, many never before published, to explore the role of photography in shaping the artist's public image and the making and selling of his art. More than that, the book shows how the Cowboy Artist personified what he portrayed.
Born in 1864 to a well-to-do family in St. Louis, Russell was smitten early on by the burgeoning art of photography and the images of the West that were proliferating as rapidly as the frontier was disappearing. When he moved to Helena at sixteen, his passions came together, as professional and amateur photographers made their way to the Montana Territory to document the cowboy life that Charlie was embracing and beginning to paint. Larry Len Peterson traces Russell's image and his career from these first adventures to his apotheosis as an artist, and then to his California period and his final days as the grand statesman of the American West. Along the way we meet some of the most interesting photographers of the era, as Russell posed for Edward S. Curtis, Roland Reed, Clarence S. Bull, Hildore C. Eklund, and Dorothea Lange, among others. Because Nancy Russell used photographs to promote her artist husband’s career and artistic identity, we also see the medium's early application as a marketing tool in the hands of a surprisingly savvy businesswoman.
Alongside Peterson's engrossing tale of the life of this American icon, the hundreds of photographs of Russell, his friends, family members, business associates, colleagues, and celebrities of his time offer a unique view of the artist's historic and cultural milieu—a view at once panoramic and intimate.
"Charles M. Russell: Photographing the Legend is a coffee-table book offering both an in-depth biography and a wealth of photography about Charles M. Russell (1864–1926), an artist, storyteller, and author also known as the 'Cowboy Artist,' famous for capturing iconic memories of the American West. Most of the vintage photographs are in black-and-white, given the technological limitations of Russell's time; occasional reproductions of art and other images are in color. Many of the hundreds of photographs of Russell have never before been published; they capture him riding horses, at his log cabin studio, 'almost cracking a smile' with his infant adopted son, and much more. Thoroughly accessible to readers of all backgrounds, Charles M. Russell: Photographing the Legend is captivating from cover to cover, and a welcome contribution to public and college library biography shelves—as well as a fine gift for any connoisseur of Russell's classic works. Highly recommended."—Midwest Book Review
"This is a masterful biographical study of Charles M. Russell, one of the most popular and engaging of all artists of the American West. Meticulously printed and organized, and beautifully illustrated with photographs that capture almost every nuance of Russell's life, it portrays the ways in which his art, reputation, and appearance and lasting memories of him were perpetuated by photography. Most distinguished American photographers who traveled west of the Mississippi River during the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought to capture this 'cowboy artist' through their lens; they included Edward S. Curtis, Roland Reed, Harry Pollard, Sumner W. Matteson, Almeron J. Baker, M. O. Hammond, Clarence S. Bull, Hildore C. Eklund, and Dorothea Lange. Also featured are images that were less posed and that bear the whimsical characteristics of photographs made at a given opportunity, with less sophisticated equipment, by less recognized photographers. While the work focuses on the photographs that chronicle Russell's life, this volume by independent scholar/collector Peterson is also an excellent appraisal of Russell's life, career, and accomplishments. Few artists have had their lives so pervasively and poignantly chronicled in photographs."—Choice Magazine