C. M. Russell Museum

Great Falls, MT




C. M. Russell Home and Log Cabin Studio: National Historic Landmark

The Russell Home:

The gray, two-story frame house of Charles Marion and Nancy Cooper Russell was built in the year 1900 at a cost of approximately $800. Located at 1219 4th Avenue North in Great Falls, Montana, this area was considered the most fashionable district of town. Charlie and Nancy, and their son Jack (whom they adopted in 1916), lived in this lovely home until 1926 when Charlie died of heart failure at the age of 62. The home, along with Charlie's adjacent log cabin studio, was made a Designated National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1966.

When Russell and his wife moved to Great Falls in 1897, they lived in a rented house not far from what eventually became their home on 4th Avenue North. Russell had become good friends with Albert J. Trigg and his family, who resided at 1201 4th Avenue North, so when the opportunity arose, Russell bought two lots near the Trigg property. Russell's mother had died and left him a sum of money, which his father gave to him in order to build a house. Nancy Russell supervised the home's design and construction.

The house is a compact but comfortable structure with front and side gables and a partial wrap-around porch, and was originally built on a stone foundation. The main floor has a small entryway leading to a foyer, a large living room, a formal dining room with built-in hutch, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a small room which was used as both a pantry and the maid's room. Upstairs is a tiny water closet, and four bedrooms - two large ones; one for the Russells' son, Jack; and another small bedroom for company. (left: a historic exterior of the Russell home)

The house was Nancy Russell's domain. Originally Charlie used the north alcove in the foyer as a studio until Nancy had the adjacent log cabin studio built in 1903. This studio became Charlie's sanctuary and work area. Nancy took great care of the house, as it was her place of business. She made it a cozy home for the Russell family and numerous friends. Before they adopted Jack in 1916, the Russells often had relatives and young friends stay with them for extended periods. Also several of their young ·friends were married in this house.

The style of the house is a frame bungalow. Throughout the interior, the plain plaster walls are accented with heavy wood molding. In the 1900s the upstairs water closet was considered quite an innovation. Today, the home is furnished primarily with period furniture, as Nancy Russell took the furniture or gave it to friends when she and Jack moved to Pasadena, California in 1927, shortly after Charlie Russell's death. (left: a current day exterior of the Russell home)

The C.M. Russell Museum is proud to recognize and celebrate the Russell Home's 100-year anniversary.


Russell's Log Cabin Studio:

Charlie Russell's artistic activities were immersed in a small log studio located adjacent to his home. This simple structure held great meaning for Charlie, representing the past which he knew so well and loved so intensely. He was able to walk through the door of the studio, back to the days of untamed land and men, to conjure up scenes which quickly appeared on his canvases. He was surrounded by his collections of cowboy and indian gear, mounted wildlife, photographs of friends, and the ambiance of his earliest years in Montana with Jake Hoover.

Charlie' s first studio was in a back corner of Jim Shelton' s saloon in Utica, Montana. Before he was married, it was not uncommon for Russell to paint in a saloon, and his first studio in Great Falls was in a rear room of the Brunswick Bar, run by Albert J. Trigg. However, before moving permanently to Great Falls in 1897, Russell painted in the "shack" he lived in part-time near Ben Roberts' house in Cascade, Montana.

In 1897, one year after his marriage to Nancy Cooper, Charlie and his bride moved from Cascade to Great Falls and rented a tiny one bedroom house not far from where they would later build their home. Charlie used the small back room of this building for his studio, but found the quarters cramped, cold and uncomfortable. In 1899, the Russells bought two lots on 4th Avenue North in the same block as their friends, the Albert J. Triggs. On the easternmost lot, they built a modest frame house in 1900 with a small inheritance left by Charlie's mother. Here, Russell set up his easel, painting equipment, and Indian and cowboy collections in the north alcove in the foyer. This, too, proved to be inconvenient for the social, business, and artistic enterprises of both Nancy and Charlie.

Three years later, in 1903, they built a 24' x 30' log building on the westernmost lot as a studio. This cabin-like building was constructed of western red cedar telephone poles and is thought to
have been constructed by Russell's friend and neighbor George Calvert. The original floor was laid with 18" square cast concrete pavers placed directly on the ground. Around 1906 Russell had the pavers replaced with a tongue and groove wooden floor. A few of the pavers were left in front of the fireplace to serve as hearth stones. At some time prior to 1911, a diamond-shaped concrete plaque bearing Russell's trademark buffalo skull and initials was made and placed on a slight rise in front of the studio. The stone wall running in front of the house and studio was constructed in 1917 by Harry Doheny; the buffalo skull plaque was placed upright in the center by O.U. Miracle, who also poured the sidewalk. At some point, Russell added a back door to the studio which was only a few feet away from the back steps of his house.
(left: exterior of the Russell studio)

In 1926, the Russells felt they needed to add a room onto the studio which would function both as a gallery space and a storage area for Russell's collections. They filed for a building permit for the addition on the west end of the studio in Septembere, but this portion was barely begun when Russell died in October. Nancy didn't complete the addition until 1928. She left George Calvert to complete this project.

When it was first built, the studio served mainly as a building to house Russell's large accumulation of Northern Plains Indians objects. However, after returning from New York and working in the studios of several artists there, the building changed into more of a working artist' s studio. It was to become one of the most important and personal places in Russell's life. He painted at the west end under a large skylight and near a long northern window for light. Also at this end of the room (opposite the fireplace) he created a small gallery.

With the exception of a number of personal items Nancy Russell took with her to Pasadena in 1927, the studio still contains most of Russell's personal collections. Nancy Russell began negotiations with the City of Great Falls for the sale and partial donation of the log studio, house and the four lots the Russells owned. In August of 1928, Nancy Russell donated the studio, lot, and its belongings to the City of Great Falls to be kept in perpetuity as a living memorial to Charles Russell. The remaining three lots and the Russell home were purchased by the City of Great Falls for $20,000.

In 1953, the C.M. Russell Museum was established through the will of Josephine Trigg. The relationship between the Memorial and the C.M. Russell Museum developed over the years and in the 1980s, the Museum took over the management and operation of the studio from the City of Great Falls. The Russell home and studio became a Designated National Historic Landmark in 1966. In 1972, a new foundation was poured and the home was moved approximately 60 feet to the east. In 1991, the Russell home, adjacent studio and its contents, were acquired from the City of Great Falls by the Trigg-C.M. Russell Foundation.

The studio and its contents have become the most significant interpretive objects in the Museum's collection. The studio collection contains approximately 1,200 items ranging from completed art works and works in progress, painting materials, personal belongings, horse equipment and props, many of which appear in his paintings. Each object contributed
significantly to the production of Russell's vast body of work. The studio aptly illustrates the materials Russell used in his work and the important creative environment in which he executed the majority of this art.

Read more about the C. M. Russell Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/4/11

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