C.M. Russell Musuem purchases painting from Benefis

The C.M. Russell Museum has purchased the Russell watercolor Brother Van on Buffalo Hunt from long-time owner Benefis Health System.

The purchase was made possible through a cooperative agreement with Benefis and donors who helped the museum raise $400,000 to purchase the painting.

The acquisition was supported by lead donations from local donors, including the museum’s Art and Soul Campaign co-chair Gene Thayer, and campaign steering committee members Owen Robinson and Pat Sletten, as well as Benefis senior staff John Goodnow,  Casey Buckingham, Forrest Ehlinger, Rayn Ginnaty, Kaci Husted, and Greg Tierney.

The proceeds from the purchase will support the new Benefis Women’s and Children’s Center.

The watercolor Brother Van on Buffalo Hunt has been on loan to the museum from Benefis since 1968.

“This significant Russell work has been an important part of The Bison: American Icon and Heart of the Plains Indian Culture exhibition since 2008. Recently, the museum raised the funds to purchase the piece for the museum’s permanent collection,” according to the museum. “This work speaks to our mission and illustrates the legacy and colorful character of Charlie Russell as well as his friendship with another icon of Great Falls history, Brother Van Orsdel.”

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Orsdel, known as Brother Van, was born in Pennsylvania in 1848 and took the steamer Far West to Fort Benton in June 1872.

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“Full of the zeal of his evangelical Methodism, Brother Van had a calling–to reach the scattered, transient white population who had left behind family and old-time religion when they made their way west. As a circuit –riding preacher he covered thousands of miles, meeting people and saving souls. His style was personal and direct, as befit the circumstances. He traveled on the sunny side of religion, offering a message of divine love in sermons that were part exhortation, part prayer, and part personal anecdote, according to an excerpt from Brian Dippie’s book Charles M. Russell, Word Painter. 

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In 1909, Russell painted the watercolor showing Orsdel on a buffalo hunt as he had in January 1873 on Freezeout Flat between Sun River and Choteau, according to the museum, and inscribed it “to Brother Van Orsdel from his friend.”