Return to Calgary is open at the Russell Museum through Sept. 30,
Through the end of September, the works of two giants of Western art are simultaneously on display at the C.M. Russell Museum.
It’s the last week of the Return to Calgary exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of Charlie Russell’s special exhibition at the 1919 Victory Stampede and in the next gallery is O.C. Seltzer’s West exhibit.
Twenty-two of the paintings from the Calgary exhibit and eight bronzes are on display together for the first time since the 1919 event.
“In the aftermath of the Great War, Western heritage and art became a safe place for both people in America and the Canadian borderlands to reflect on their values and find comfort. Charlie captured a spirit in his work that was unparalleled and a perfect pairing for the authenticity, exuberance and honor celebrated at the Victory Stampede,” Tom Figarelle, the museum’s executive director, said in a release. “Seeing these works returned to their birth place along with the stories eloquently shared through fresh scholarship, allows us all to understand what it would have been like to know Charlie in his artistic prime.”
The art came from 16 different lenders and without the exhibit in Great Falls, a person would have to drive about 7,000 miles to see them all, according to Christina Horton, marketing manager for the Russell Museum.
The Return to Calgary exhibit closes Sept. 30 and includes “the best of the best Russell paintings,” Horton said.
The first Calgary Stampede was in 1912 and the organizers decided to include an artist with the rodeo events. That artist was Charlie Russell.
It wasn’t meant to be an annual event, but the organizers held another stampede in late August 1919 after World War I in an effort to boost morale.
The Russells brought 24 paintings and eight bronzes to the 1919 stampede.
Now, 100 years later, most of those pieces are back together.
The Glenbow Museum of Art in Calgary celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first stampede in 2012, but didn’t want to do another event for the 2019 anniversary, so the C.M. Russell Museum organized an exhibition.
“It was an incredible task,” Horton said.
The pieces are master works, she said, and they were able to get 22 or the 24 pieces that were shown at the 1919 event. One of the remaining paintings is in Edmonton and the other is in a private collection.
Initially, the Russell Museum had tracked down 21 pieces and two weren’t available, but Black Tail-Buffalo Days was missing.
It had been traced for awhile, but no one knew where was, Horton said.
Western Art Collector magazine did a spread on the Return to Calgary exhibition and a few days later, the museum got a call from the owner of the missing painting. Horton said the museum had to add a wall to the gallery for that painting.
The brochure that accompanies the exhibit includes descriptions that Nancy Russell wrote for the 1919 exhibit and is listed in the order she used.
Even if you’ve visited the Russell in the past, Horton said now is a good time to visit again since the Return to Calgary Exhibit since these paintings won’t likely be back together again, plus the new Seltzer exhibit.
Russell and Seltzer knew each other and there are two pieces in the exhibits that they both painted on.
The met at Russell’s birthday party in 1897.
Seltzer grew up in Europe, but ended up in Great Falls.
According to the museum, Russell said Selzer was one of the finest water colorists he knew of and his watercolors are included in the exhibit that is on display through January.
The exhibit, curated by The History Museum’s Director Kristi Scott, “examines Seltzer’s early life, and experiences explore his maturation as an artist on the Northern Plains of Montana and his friendship with Russell and celebrate a number of his major works that now reside in private and public collections,” according to the museum.
The museum is open seven days a week for the Return to Calgary exhibition to ensure the public has a chance to see it, but the museum goes to winter hours on Oct. 1.
Attendance has been up for the summer and Horton said she’s never heard so many people saying they came specifically to see an exhibit.
It’s unlikely the Russell pieces from the 1919 stampede will be together again given the logistics involved in moving the art.
The cost to ship the artwork was substantial, Horton said. Typically when museums move major pieces of artwork, particularly from an institution, it requires a courier and a semi-truck designed for fine art with two drivers. The art is transported in large wooden crates that can’t be opened until a representative of the sending institution arrives to do a status report.
The Return to Calgary exhibit is accompanied by a catalog that includes essays and full-color art. Work on the catalog uncovered stories, scholarship and missing pieces to historical records from the U. S. to the Royal Collection in the United Kingdom, according to the Russell museum. The catalog is available for purchase at the museum.