Blast from the Past

Nancy Russell stops by Lewistown
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Members of the Red Hat Society had a ball at “High Tea with Nancy Russell” last Wednesday at the Lewistown Art Center. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Kuhlmann

Allie Uecker volunteered at Wednesday’s High Tea with Nancy Russell event, offering each table cream and sugar. Uecker also made mints for the occasion. 

Photo by Charlie Denison

Mary Jane Bradbury (standing) performs as Nancy Russell, the wife of Charlie Russell, during the Lewistown Art Center’s “High Tea” event Wednesday. 

Photo by Charlie Denison


On Wednesday afternoon, at approximately 4 p.m., those at the Lewistown Art Center took a trip to 1935, where they had a rare opportunity to meet Nancy Russell, the wife of famed Western artist Charlie Russell.

Nancy Russell, played by Humanities Montana actress Mary Jane Bradbury, brought sass, humor and a plethora of stories with her to the event, put together by representatives of the Lewistown Art Center, the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering and the C.M. Russell Museum.

Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering Executive Director Karen Kuhlmann was particularly excited about the event, using many of her own props to turn the LAC into an elegant early 20th Century high tea event.

Kuhlmann wasn’t the only one who embraced this occasion to dress in period clothing and wear a fancy hat, as women of all ages joined her. 

“There were so many hats, gloves and vintage dresses,” Kuhlmann said. “Girls love to dress up.”

As more and more gathered, a line developed at the fruit and pastry counter. Once they took their seats, there was hardly an empty chair in the building.

Kuhlmann was pleased.

“Thank you for coming to celebrate Charlie Russell, the heart and soul of Central Montana,” she said proudly.

Before giving the honors of introducing Bradbury to LAC Director Mary Baumstark, Kuhlmann gave a shout-out to former Senator Jim Peterson, one of the few men in the room. A current board member for the C.M. Russell Museum, Peterson said he was honored to collaborate with Kuhlmann and the LAC. He was happy to share in the appreciation of “Russell Country.”

The partnership between the C.M. Russell Museum and the Cowboy Poetry Gathering goes beyond “High Tea,” as Cowboy Poetry and the museum are celebrating Charlie Russell this year. Cowboy Poetry is honoring Charlie with their pin pass. Those who bring the pin pass to C.M. Russell Museum receive free admission throughout the month of August.

Without further ado, Nancy Russell took control of the room, speaking in an endearing Southern accent, sharing her many experiences with the talented artist. 

Although much was said about Charlie’s gift, Nancy’s story focused more on love – and marriage. 

“The reason Nancy did what she did for Charlie, the reason she promoted and marketed his paintings, was because she loved Charlie,” Bradbury said before the presentation. 

While performing as Nancy, Bradbury told the captive audience that there’s no way Charlie could have sold as many paintings and received as much fame without his wife’s perseverance and marketing skills.

“Marry someone who manages you right,” she said.

However, having a wife that “manages you right” isn’t always glamorous, as Nancy said sometimes Charlie would jokingly refer to marriage as “getting necked.”

Jokes aside, the two were practically inseparable, and their bond remained strong all the way up to his death in October of 1926. Following his death, Nancy continued to market and promote his work and tell his many stories.

Nancy “didn’t want anybody to forget about Charlie,” and she accomplished her goal, as Charlie’s art remains a staple of the West. Last Wednesday, Charlie lived on again, thanks to a fun little time warp featuring his wife.

“High Tea with Nancy Russell was a visit back in time to a ‘kinder, gentler’ era,” Kuhlmann said. “The buffet and tables were as vintage and fussy as we could set them, and all to celebrate our dear Charlie Russell.”



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