The third week in March finds Great Falls turning in to the Western Art Capital of the World. That’s a pretty heady title but once you experience it, you get it.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Russell Art Auction, now named The Russell: A Sale to Benefit the Russell Museum. Locals who began the show 50 years ago, and one who has attended all 50 shows, were all smiles last night at the First Strike sale of the Russell show. Saturday evening’s auction features a broader (and higher) range of art that will also go on the block but the First Strike had some nice bids too.
It’s fun to see and feel the excitement of the crowd build as certain art goes higher than anticipated. At one time last night there was wild applause and then, as the auctioneer was successful in getting the bid higher, the crowd was quiet in anticipation.
I also attended the Russell show’s Art In Action earlier in the day. Artists are set up throughout the Meadowlark Country Club and attendees mingle
throughout the 26 artists while they finish their art. After almost three hours, each piece was then auctioned. Some artists did more of a quick finish piece but one sculptor started with a lump of clay, began to make a bear, then changed to a mountain goat, and ended up with a Native American warrior. Artists visited with attendees, explained why they used certain paints or chalk, and then put finishing touches on their work. Mimosas, Caesars and bloody Mary’s flowed, brunch and then lunch were served and the crowd only quieted when an artist stood next to the auctioneer to add comments to his or her art. Some artists were nervous, others seemed to pump up the crowd with their antics!
Now, back to the other shows that help create the Western Art Capital of the World.
The Out West Show & Sale is headquartered at the BW Plus Heritage Inn in Great Falls. This year it begin with a gala opening ceremony and launch party on Wednesday of Art Week. I visited with several of the artists I know, then stopped by a couple more rooms that looked interesting. Artists rent the hotel rooms, the hotel removes the furniture and the public
can wander in and out. All events at the Out West Show & Sale are free to attend. A new auction they are featuring this weekend is called 14 Squared Small Works, and all the art entered will fit into a 14″ frame. Native American dancers, live artist demos, an art Quick Finish, music and an art area dedicated to student artists round out this event. You could spend the entire weekend at this show but you’d miss some of the others.
Western Heritage Artists Footprints on the Trail have set up in the lobby and rooms at the Holiday Inn for 37 years. The minute you enter the lobby of the Holiday Inn you are in the show. Art is beautifully displayed throughout the lobby, in addition to two floors of the hotel having open art rooms. Western Heritage Artists have a silent auction too, in addition to a Quick Finish, a Wall Art sale and a benefit for cancer awareness.
Another favorite of mine is the Great Western Living & Design Show at Montana Expo Park. I saw a few traditional artwork booths but I was absolutely amazed at some of the other unique art – 125 booths total. Hand carved doors and custom furniture,
hand-woven tea towels, metal sculptures, western clothing and Native American art. The show has entertainment each weekend evening from 6-8pm which brought in a good crowd the other night. New this year – a pancake breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, prepared and served by the local Lions Club.
Other shows include Jay Contway and Friends at the Hilton Garden Inn, the Wild Bunch Show at the Hampton Inn, Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art featuring Native American art and a fashion show with clothes designed by Brenda Bullshoe, March In Montana show and auction at the Elks Lodge, Missouri Falls Fine Arts show at the History Museum, Studio 706 show at the Civic Center, two antique shows and a Native American art show at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park.
One question I had from a first-time attendee – Why have this huge event in March? Yes we have snow and cooler temps but the event was originally scheduled to be on the third weekend in March to celebrate Charlie Russell’s birthday. And it has stayed on the same weekend for 50 years.
It’s exhausting trying to get to all of the shows so I usually pick several to attend each year. A good portion of my time at each event is spent visiting with people I haven’t seen for awhile – some since the last Western Art Week in Great Falls. It’s one heck of a good time!