Western Art Week: Our snapshot of art action

Great Falls brims with art makers and admirers March 15-19

New & Notable

Western Art Week – held on or or around Charlie Russell’s birthday – brings artists and art admirers  to Great Falls March 15-19 for nearly a dozen art shows and auctions. It’s a fitting tribute to the cowboy artist who was born March 19, 1864, and branded Montana as his home.

From art aficionados to casual browsers, and from traditional to contemporary artwork, the five-day extravaganza offers something for every taste and pocketbook. Here’s our rundown:

The Russell

The Russell: Auction Action
The Russell AuctionPhoto © C.M. Russell Museum

The cornerstone is The Russell: An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C.M. Russell Museum, March 16-18. One of the most respected western art auctions in the country is also the only one that directly benefits the museum – a facility that devotes five galleries to Russell’s work.

New this year is the Rockin’ the Range Fashion Review, 1 p.m. Thursday at the Mansfield Convention Center; this benefit for educational programming at the museum showcases vintage and western-inspired clothing and accessories for both men and women on The Russell auction runway. Admission is free or $50 for VIP.

Preview auction art 6-8 p.m. Thursday evening during the Art Preview Party at the museum. The Mansfield Center hosts the C.M. Russell Heritage Awards Dinner and Russell Skull Society of Artists sale, open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

Art in Action, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday at Meadowlark Country Club, is a brunch and quick-draw event that culminates in an auction, with all proceeds donated to the museum. Action moves back to the Mansfield Center at 6 p.m. for the First Strike Auction, featuring art submitted exclusively by contemporary artists. Wylie and the Wild West entertain after the auction.

The free Russell Educational Symposium, 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, offers a lively discussion with the filmmakers of the new Montana PBS documentary, “C.M. Russell and the American West,” moderated by executive producer William Marcus. The film premieres next September at the Mansfield Theater.

Get in the mood for the main event with a pre-auction concert by the Hot Club of Cowtown. The group from Austin delivers hot jazz and western swing at 4:30 p.m.

The Russell Live Auction kicks off at 6 p.m.; the gala evening offers a sale of historic and contemporary fine art and a gourmet dinner and beverage service (auction art is currently on display at the museum). Highlights include “The Victors” by Gerard Curtis Delano; and a Russell original, “Following the Buffalo Run.”

Call 727-8787 or visit www.cmrussell.org for details.

March in Montana 

"Old Man Eagle Dancer #2" by Kevin Red Star
March in Montana: “Old Man Eagle Dancer #2” by Kevin Red StarPhoto © Kevin Red Star

The 30th annual March in Montana Fine Art and Collectibles Sale, March 16-18, moves to a new venue this year – the Elks Lodge – after the demise of its former home, the Townhouse Inn. The auction and sale is sponsored by the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction of Idaho and Manitou Galleries of Cheyenne and Santa Fe.

Bob Nelson, owner of Manitou Galleries and a senior partner in the sale, is optimistic about the new venue. “We feel like we’re reinventing the wheel, but sometimes change can also bring opportunity and we’re hopeful that this change will do just that,” he says.

Nelson promises an “exceptional sale and show to pull in the buyers who historically have supported us in the past.” Although the venue is less expansive, he promises the event will offer the same “variety and quality” as previous years.

The show, on display 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, attracts some of the most noted dealers in country, who sell historic and contemporary fine art and sculpture, antiques, books, and cowboy and Indian collectibles.

Auctions at noon Friday and Saturday feature more than 700 pieces of western, sporting and wildlife art and sculpture by scores of prominent western artists. In addition, this year’s intriguing list of collectibles and artifacts includes nine silver saddle rigs, a vintage Blackfoot warrior shirt, a Crow beaded martingale and more than 80 Navajo weavings.

Live online, absentee and telephone bidding are available; lots are posted online and in the full-color catalog ($30).

Call 307-635-0019 or visit www.marchinmontana.com for details.

Great Western Living and Design

The Great Western Living and Design Show returns to the Four Seasons Arena at Montana ExpoPark March 16-19. More than 100 vendors showcase the best in western furniture, custom-made fine crafts, art and unique western ware, from handcrafted boots to one-of-a-kind clothing and jewelry.

Exhibit rooms are open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. Western-hued music adds to the ambiance, with performances by Montana favorite Bruce Anfinson Friday night, and Pollo Loco Saturday.

Call 761-0288 or visit www.thegreatwesternshow.com for details.

MTWS Members Watermedia Art Sale

The Montana Watercolor Society Members Watermedia Sale showcases works by 12 members, 6-9 p.m. March 16, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. March 17-18 and 8 a.m.-noon March 19 at La Quinta Inn and Suites. The second annual showcase celebrates the beauty and technical challenge of water-based paints – one of the most difficult painting media.

“Watercolors offer the spontaneous and settling mood that no other media offers,” says Great Falls artist and MTWS member Carol Spurgeon. “They are dramatically able to show off the best of design of any western or contemporary subject.”

The sale room features framed original paintings while the lobby offers cards and prints. A reception is slated for Thursday and painting demonstrations are on tap throughout the event.

Call 453-4076 or visit www.montanawatercolorsociety.org for details.

Western Heritage Artists’ “Footprints on the Trail” 

Western Art Week’s longest continually-running show brings more than 60 artists to the Holiday Inn March 15-19. Members of the eclectic group share works in a variety of media, including oils, watercolor, bronze, wood, leather, metal, wheat, scratchboard, batik, photography and more. The 36th annual event kicks off with an awards ceremony at 6 p.m. Wednesday, featuring an atrium show, music, drinks and appetizers.

The Buffalo Skull Auction on Friday evening includes a quick finish and the auction of a dozen painted buffalo skulls, each decorated by a different WHA artist; proceeds benefit Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. Skulls are on display Wednesday and Thursday.

Art Competing for a Cause, 5-9 p.m. Saturday, features a quick finish and silent and live auctions that benefit Breast Cancer Awareness, and local education causes.

Enjoy live music by Rick McCollum and daily prize drawings. Doors are open 7-10 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Call 868-9649 or visit www.westernheritageartshow.com.

Other offerings

  • Wild Bunch Art Show, March 15-18 at the Hampton Inn; 17 gifted artists from three states show and sell drawings, paintings, carvings and more in a relaxed setting during the annual event. New this year is a pre-show reception, 5 p.m. Wednesday, featuring a keepsake, champagne and other decadent treats. Call 842-5266 for details.
  • Out West Art Show and Sale, March 15-18 at Best Western Plus Heritage Inn; the 46th annual show boasts 110 exhibit rooms filled with works by more than 135 artists. Highlights include two quick-finishes, three auctions, a Native American dance presentation, Young Masters’ art programs, and music. Call 564-8669 or visit www.outwestartshow.com.
  • Jay Contway and Friends Art Show, March 16-18, Hilton Garden Inn in Great Falls; professional artists from the western United States and Canada host their own exhibits during this annual show.  Call 452-7647 or visit www.jaycontway.com for details.
  • Missouri Falls Fine Arts Show and Sale, March 16-19 at The History Museum; the Arts Association of Montana joins Western Art Week with this annual show. Call 564-5784 for details.
  • Studio 706 Artist Guild Spring Show, 5-9 p.m. March 16, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. March 17 and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. March 18 in the Gibson Room at the Great Falls Civic Center; studio members showcase all types of fine art, including paintings, drawings, carvings, pottery, fabric art, jewelry, photography, stained glass and ceramics. This year’s event kicks off with a reception, 5-7 p.m. Thursday, and includes a new juried theme section, “Downtown Great Falls.” Call 761-8228 or visit www.studio706artistguild.com.
  • Western Collectibles and Antique Gun Show, March 16-19 at Montana ExpoPark Exhibition Hall; show, which coincides with Western Art Week, features antique and collectible firearms, western memorabilia, Indian relics, artwork, collector books, and glassware.  Call 452-5436 or visit www.greatfallsgunshow.net.
  • First Peoples Buffalo Jump Art Exhibit, noon -3 p.m. March 18 at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park in Ulm; view artwork by the Kuka family and D. G. House. Call 866-2217.
  • Celebration of Native Plains Artists, March 16-19 at Montana ExpoPark; native artists offered a wide variety of artworks – everything from quill and beadwork to mixed media and ledger art.