Charlie Russell Museum in Great Falls, MT.

DSCN7601Carol and I are taking a prolonged trip around the country, and we have hundreds of new memories. I took her to see the 201-foot-long Roe River in Great Falls, Montana, and the Giant Springs that feeds the river. My brother, Paul, and I visited the river in June of 2016 and I was anxious to see it again. (Visit Paul’s web site at http://www.paullinzey.com)

Returning from the river and springs, Carol saw a sign and excitedly said, “Turn around!”

An obedient chauffeur, I turned around and found my way back to 400 13th Street North. I could hardly believe my eyes. I blurted out, “The Charlie Russell Museum? I didn’t know it was here! You want to go in?”

“I pointed it out to you, didn’t I?” (Good point.)

In Southern California I learned to know the artist as Charlie Russell, but perhaps most of you know him as C. M. Russell. Also known as “Kid” Russell, Charlie is perhaps the greatest painter and sculptor of Western America.

Charles Marion Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri on March 19, 1864—a year before IMG_4181the American Civil War ended; and he apparently had the desire to sculpt and draw as a child. Through the stories of his grandmother (Lucy Bent Russell – her brothers were Charles and William Bent who founded Bent’s Fort in Colorado), Charlie became infatuated with The West, and when he was sixteen years old his parents allowed him to head west to work on a sheep ranch in Montana—often called Big Sky Country.

He became a cowboy; but no matter what you saw on television, being a cowboy was not all “Yippie-yi-yo, Get Along, Little Doggies.” It was a rough life, but Charlie stayed on and learned almost everything there was to know about the job. He often sketched scenes, painted, and made models of wildlife to pay for his room and board.

Gifted artists are not usually great businessmen, therefore, he had difficulty paying bills and keeping food in the pantry. But when Charlie married Nancy Cooper in 1896, she became his manager. When Charlie might have settled for $25 for a painting, Nancy knew the true value and sold it for several hundred dollars. With Nancy as his manager, Charles Russell entered the national limelight.

Charlie’s memory was amazing, but he frequently used props and models. Sometimes Nancy and another friend would dress up in Native American costumes to model for him. He would often create a quick reference sketch then join in the fun and dress up as well. His studio was filled with Native American and cowboy tools, jewelry, clothing, etc., which he used for reference.

Charles M. Russell died of congestive heart failure on October 24, 1926.

DSCN7986Arriving at the museum in Great Falls around 1:30 pm, time escaped us as we visited the gallery. The Charlie Russell Riders Sculpture Garden in the front of the museum is beautiful. But once inside the gallery, we were amazed with the paintings, sketches, sculptures, and carvings! Even the model stagecoach looked realistic.

Charlie was observant! Seeing what most others glossed over, Charlie saw the beauty in a galloping horse; sage brush in twilight; sunset over the rugged plains; and the fearsome look on the face of the Indian Chief sitting on his pinto without a saddle. He had a memory for detail that far surpassed most people: A gunfight at a saloon with rowdy cowboys riding their steeds on the boardwalks became a beautifully-detailed painting. And looking at another painting, I could almost feel the pain in the cowboy’s wrenched back as he tried to “break the bronco.”

The museum is very-well laid out as it reveals the evolution of Charlie’s life: professional as well as personal. We found high-quality gifts in the C. M. Russell Museum Store. The personnel are friendly, informative, and a joy to be with. I learned a lot as I spoke with them. In 2009 the Wall Street Journal called the museum “One of America’s premier Western art museums,” and I fully agree.

As we drove back to Dick’s RV Campground, I marveled at Charlie Russell’s abilities. DSCN7522B Dick's RV Great Falls, MTAlmighty God is a great and loving Creator. I believe that God gives everyone some creative ability or talent at birth, and it’s up to us to discover what it is and develop it. Charlie did.

I encourage you to visit the C. M. Russell Museum at 400 13th St. North, Great Falls, Montana. You’ll enjoy it.

Slow Down and Live

Some years ago, I was sitting at my typewriter – actually at my computer – looking out the window. It was cold with a light breeze blowing. The clouds, which are usually water vapor, looked more like swirling snow ready to grace our countryside. My snow shovel was ready, my boots were at the door, and Carol could have hot coffee or hot chocolate ready within five minutes if I needed to leave my comfort zone to clear the sidewalk and driveway.

We lived in a community of 3,000 people in the hills of northern New Mexico at 7,825 feet above sea level. (For comparison, Albuquerque, NM is about 5,000 feet in altitude.)  

A winter storm would often drop two to three feet of snow at a time, sometimes up to five feet,PICT0181 and we would be temporarily locked in the house. That was great for the skiers, and it made the landscape look more beautiful than words can tell. And if there was no wind while the snow was falling, the big fluffy snowflakes absorbed all the background noise which created a living Winter Rockwell Painting. Beautiful!

If the snow was less than two feet deep, my 4-wheel drive vehicle with good tires would get me anywhere I wanted to go. But if it was deeper than two feet, we just stayed home. Carol would get out the coffee or hot chocolate; maybe bake several dozen cookies. We would start a fire in the fireplace, make sure the cat and dogs were warm if they weren’t playfully romping out the in the field; and Carol and I would do what we enjoyed doing best: Spend Time With Each Other.

With our schedules jammed and our lives so full of activity, being snowed-in gave us time to tell each other what we meant to say several days or weeks previously. We had time to actually LISTEN to each other.

PICT1265With critters in front of the fireplace, a table nearby with a puzzle or a scrabble game on it, steam rising from two cups of hot chocolate or coffee, a big window across the room with snow gently falling outside–we have another Rockwell Painting. Periodically I would go out and clear the walks and uncover the car before the snow got too deep.

Carol and I understand the value, and the need, to spend time together; so at times we still declare a “snow-day” and stay home. Years ago, we decided to slow down and live. Slowing down can actually make our lives fuller and richer. Not fuller with more things to do or richer with more money in the bank; but fuller and richer with what really counts in life.

Since we don’t have a guarantee that we will be alive on earth tomorrow, why not invest our time and our lives into people now? After all, material possessions can give satisfaction for a little while, but healthy, wholesome interaction with family and friends can last a lifetime–and beyond.

It’s called making memories together, and it’s more enjoyable than watching a football game.

When family members or friends that we love leave this life, we will miss them. We will be sad, and tears can flow. But if we invest our lives into them while they are here, we will have those memories to hold on to, and those memories will help sustain us in our sorrow.

More importantly, we should invest our time studying the Bible and learning to know Jesus. First Thessalonians 4:13-14, which applies to those who live for the Lord, says “But we do not want you to be uninformed about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. (NRSV)” What a promise! Therefore, even in sorrow we can experience joy.PICT0192B

Well, it didn’t snow that day, but my boots and the shovel were ready just in case it did. 

Oh, Carol just told me that lunch is ready. I think I’ll turn off the computer and spend time with her. Maybe we’ll play scrabble. We like that game. As of this writing, we are tied at 368 wins.