Charlie Russell's Old West

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No one played a larger role in mythologizing the cowboy’s place in American culture than Charles M. Russell. Explore his art and life as he witnessed and documented the end of the Wild West open range, and America entered the 20th Century.

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About the Film

As a teenager in 1880, Charles M. Russell came out West looking for adventure. And he found it. From living with a mountain man, to riding with the big northern Montana roundups, he witnessed and recorded what he saw, lived and heard, with drawings, paintings, sculpture and stories. What he didn’t see, he imagined, and by all accounts, he got things right.

It was an "only in America" story. Self-taught, and in critical partnership with his wife, Nancy Cooper Russell, who promoted his work and managed his affairs, by the time Russell died in 1926, he was the highest paid artist in America, and today, celebrated around the globe.

Russell’s art has been famously called “stories on a page,” depicting a period in Western history when vast herds of buffalo roamed the land, Native Americans practiced traditional ways, and cowboys drove cattle from Texas to the bountiful Montana high plains. It was an era of romance and adventure – and tragedy. Russell chronicled it all.

From the "Big Die Up" to the end of the Indian Wars and the destruction of Native Americans' traditional way of life, Russell told the story of a vanishing Wild West from multiple perspectives. He is celebrated as the cowboy artist, but in many respects he became a Native American artist, too, his work acclaimed not only for its beauty and romance, but its authenticity and record of an iconic American West, treasured by collectors, galleries, museums, and ever still, cowboys and native, tribal people.

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