If Charlie Russell Painted Missile Silos

Publisher’s Note: A version of this blog first appeared in the Great Falls Tribune.


Charlie RussellWhat if Montana’s famous cowboy artist, Charlie Russell was living today? What if he lived now, today, in the 21st century, instead of the late nineteenth and early 20th century era?  I have mused many times as to what shape his artworks and inspiration would yield in this contemporary time we now live in.  How would our current time horizon inspire or shape his work and creative output? Would he even paint or sculpt?

Would Charlie paint historically romantic western scenes filled with thrilling shoot-outs and stagecoach robberies, as some current Western Artists who find inspiration in his work? Maybe. Or would he be drawn in our present time, and the incredible complexity and paradox surrounding us, as the modern eclipses the Old ways.


Camp Cook’s Troubles by Charles Marion Russell. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Would he find a robust voice expressing his indignation at the rapid degradation of the once pristine natural environment and the subjugation of the aboriginal tribes that inhabited it? Or would he illustrate the most colorful, important and perhaps sentimental aspects of Montana’s historic past prior to its alarming and inevitable lurch into the 21st century.


Russell Loops and Swift Horses are Surer than Lead 1916. Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As a contemporary artist he might paint Indians and Cowboys in textured and rusty pickup trucks cruising near rancher’s shining metallic grain storage towers, oil derricks or ominous nuclear missile silos. Or, he might find his voice for our time in what still exists of the natural and dramatic landscape and big sky, as have painters Jeff Walker, Clyde Aspevig and Russell Chatham.

Perhaps he would be attracted to filmmaking or conceptual art as well as the current magic of computers and technology. His sculptural work might look more like contemporary artists Debra Butterfield or Jay Labor.  Or it might become less figurative and be more motivated by the restless energy of the weather and it’s effects on the landscape such as Gary Bates’ wind augers.

Monte Dolack Winds of Change acrylic on copper  11x12  2013

Winds of Change. Acrylic on copper 11×12. ©Monte Dolack

Russell witnessed many of the rapid changes of the Wild West and great western American landscape and most certainly strove to paint and preserve what he had observed or perceived from stories he heard. He also filtered much of what he saw with wit and humor, which was often lacking in his counterparts.


Roadside Attraction. 11×12 acrylic on copper. ©Monte Dolack

CM Russell and his school’s main focus were on the life of Indians and Cowboys. At the same time there were thousands of immigrants working a mile deep in the mines of Butte extracting the wealth from the richest hill on earth. The tailings and waste from these mines that brought wealth and jobs to our state also tainted the rivers and streams flowing west down the Clark Fork River drainage to create later day jobs in the Superfund toxic remediation industry.

Fossil Fueled. Acrylic on copper 9x12 2013. ©Monte Dolack.

Fossil Fueled. Acrylic on copper 9×12 2013. ©Monte Dolack.

Charlie chose to live near the banks of the upper Missouri river in Great Falls, Montana where the traditional West of the Native Americans and the more recently arrived Cowboys and European immigrants and colonists was giving way to a modern industrial city.

Monte Dolack Sacred and Profane acrylic on copper 11x12

Sacred and Profane. Acrylic on copper 11×12. ©Monte Dolack

I like to think Charlie would look to this modern Montana time period we live in, use the tools and instruments now available and voice his concepts, stories and viewpoints with humor, irony and fine craftsmanship. Although we know he influenced and chronicled the time in which he lived, he remains with us today as a teller of stories, both in words and paint.


To see more of Monte Dolack’s artwork, visit his Gallery or check out his website.


A native of Great Falls, Monte Dolack grew up surrounded by the same sweeping vistas and big sky that inspired Charlie Russell. His love of Montana and passion for the West’s diverse landscapes and wildlife are evident in the images he creates and the commissions he undertakes.

His best known early works – wild animals wreaking havoc in human homes – comprise his “Invaders Series,” exploring the myths of the West and how we view our relationship with our environment. The irresistible appeal of these images helped build Monte’s national reputation and continues to attract collectors.

A love of the natural world, combined with his exuberant curiosity and travel experiences, has shaped the content of Monte’s imagery.  Blending mythology, technology, and elements from nature and the landscape, his work is infused with a sense of humor and irony.