As Willy sings “my heroes have always been cowboys” and when I was about eight years old I saw my first Charlie Russell prints and fell in love with the art and the artist. In school I made the school librarian cry (a kindly and sensitive lady) when she discovered that I had read Will James four times in a row. I started to sketch horses just like Charlie and Will. Later I taught myself oil painting and I have continued painting wildlife, outdoor and cowboy scenes for a lifetime.
As a kid I worked for the forestry service in fire towers and later fighting fire. I attended the University of British Columbia and studied Zoology. I was hoping to become a wildlife biologist but I graduated with honours in Psychology.
I moved to northern British Columbia with my wife Linda, a registered nurse. We lived outside of Dawson Creek in a four hundred square foot cabin with no running water, an outhouse and one and a half channels of T.V. Why? It was all we could afford and we refused to go into debt. (When it hit forty below the cabin shrunk to three hundred square feet and cabin fever was rampant}. We were twenty five miles out of town in an area called “Fellers Heights”. This was not a rural housing development. The Fellers had come here from Montana in 1912 in order to escape the law. ( horse theft was no longer punishable by hanging…but they preferred the northern climate}. Because they had a great view of the mountains, they called it Fellers Heights.
I was in my glory, surrounded by real cowboys and real Indians. My neighbours were old time cowboys and rodeo riders. I got two good mountain horses, would load them in the back of my pick-up (you never see that much anymore) and would supplement our food supply with moose…very few elk or deer back in those early days. Moose season opened on August fifteenth and ran till December first with a two week cow season as well…lots of game and few people in those days. Looking back, I must admit it was a pretty primitive and rugged lifestyle. It was harder on Linda, my wife, than on me…but somehow she put up with me and the bush even though she worked long night shifts in town at the hospital. I can’t thank her enough for that.
It was at this time, twenty five years ago that I made a pilgrimage to Great Falls to visit Charlie, his museum, house and grave. I was astounded by his originals. The best reproductions are a falsehood and do an injustice to his skills. I came away from that experience trying to paint better.
I became a paramedic on oil rigs because your only job was to treat injuries. Consequently paramedics or “band-aids” as we were affectionately called had a lot of spare time. I would take all my painting gear to the rig and paint all day and get paid for it. I refer to this as my “Workers Compensation Board Art Scholarship”. I’d return to town after three weeks with a stack of paintings that sold to local ranchers and the general public…painting wildlife on gold pans was a big seller. We were far enough north and semi-isolated that there were no juried art shows available…this is before ATVs, quads and the internet… and the local art club were more interested in artsy-fartsy stuff than realisticly painted cow horses. I also started to teach first-aid and CPR at the local college. In 1984 I was awarded the Dawson Creek citizen of the year for my efforts to promote CPR.
This lifestyle went on for twenty years or so. I became a paramedic with the B.C. Ambulance Service and I got so busy with this and teaching that I decided to sell my horses. At age fifty-two I went back to University and acquired a Master’s of Counseling Psychology and have maintained a private practice in Dawson Creek for the past sixteen years…specializing in clinical hypnotherapy. Check (www.peacetherapy.com) Good mountain horses have to be used regularly, not just on weekends and I had to make a decent living (starving artists are still a common species}…. but I kept my saddle and tack because I knew at some point in the future I would have the time and I would eventually get back into horses and the mountains.
Even though life intervened, I kept on painting. As I got older and dear friends died off, I felt that a good oil portrait would be more meaningful to the family than just a photograph…so as friends passed on I started to paint more and with more meaning and intensity.
Then, last year, 2012, it was the one hundredth anniversary of the Calgary Stampede and they collected eighteen of the original twenty paintings that Charlie Russell displayed at that show. I ONCE AGAIN HAD A CHANCE TO LOOK AT ORIGINAL Charlie Russell’s and I was more blown-away than the first time…twenty five years ago. I was very moved. Since I was again painting actively for my friends’ families, it struck me that I would like to go back to my first love…Charlie Russell and his paintings. As I was already a western history fan, I was very familiar with Charlie Russell’s life and times.
Joe DeYong, Charlie Russell’s only true student, looked back on his life when he was seventy-two years old and reflected that Charlie Russell had died at age sixty-six in his artistic prime. I looked back on my life, at age seventy-two and realized that I would like to pay tribute, in my own humble way, not only to Charlie Russell but also to his wife, Nancy (or Mame). I have recently become aware of the impact that she had on his successful career. Charlie said that, without her, he would be cleaning out spittoons in some saloon. As I reflected on Charley and Mame, my interest was aroused to paint episodes from their lives and especially events in Charlie Russell’s life that struck a chord with my own mountain and horse experiences in the northern Rockies. This is something that I could paint with a degree of passion and personal interest.
So here I am at seventy three dedicating this website to Charlie Russell and his wife. I especially want to emphasize the importance she played in his career. In my opinion, she is the unsung hero and Charlie would agree with me.
And, oh yes, I am getting back into horses. I recently did a six day pack trip back into the northern mountains where there were more plains bison than anything else. Buffalo wallows and trails everywhere…just like early Montana. But age is starting to catch up…got to admit I was a little stove-up and sore.
I hope you enjoy the site and learn more about the subtle and dramatic events in Charlie Russell’s life and also the complex and dynamic relationship he had with Mame.