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Endorsements and Reviews

Book Review

Charles M. Russell, The Storyteller's Art, by Raphael James Cristy

Review by Anne Morand, C. M. Russell Museum, published in Montana The Magazine of Western History, Winter 2005-2006, Montana Historical Society, Helena, page 84.

Charlie Russell's name conjures up scenes of Montana's past set against glorious backdrops of Big Sky country. In pictures that are often so narrative they lead us to speculate on the outcomes, Russell captured moments in time, action frozen at the point of highest drama. Fortunately for those of us wishing for more than the single moment, Russell also wrote engaging, short stories and essays, both humorous and serious. It is Russell's written work that Raphael Cristy investigates in his substantive and imminently readable study.

In examining the evolution of Russell's writings and putting these within the context of his career, Cristy reveals intriguing associations not only with Russell's visual art, but, more importantly, with the American literary community. By placing Russell in the canon of western literature, Cristy's study offers a thoroughly researched look at the influences on and by Russell as well as an analysis of his writings that would satisfy the requirements of any serious curriculum. Instead of a dry, factual catalog, Cristy offers the reader (and student) a wonderfully engaging volume that enlightens and entertains. And why not? The author, an award-winning scholar, is also a most engaging performer, whose talents range from the ability to assume the writer's persona in telling "Charlie Russell's yarns" to his rather more surprising talent of playing the musical saw. Cristy brings a combination of academic rigor and folksiness that suits his subject. Extensive endnotes and a bibliography coexist happily with Russell quotations containing very original spelling and grammar.

Although Cristy concentrates his efforts on Russell's literary work, his book includes nearly 150 images: photographs, pen-ink story illustrations, and over 30 paintings. Russell knew many of the authors who were his contemporaries, and, in fact illustrated some of their more celebrated works, including Owen Wister's The Virginian. He also encouraged such writers as Teddy Blue Abbott, Con Price, and Frank Bird Linderman in letters that have become literary gems in their own right.

Cristy's study joins a growing bibliography of critical work on Russell by authors such as Brian Dippie, Peter Hassrick, and Fred Renner. While not a biography, Charles M. Russell, The Storyteller's Art incorporates aspects of the artist's life particularly relevant to his development as a writer.

Evaluation of:
Raphael Cristy’s performance of
“An Evening With Charles M. Russell”

by Professor Robert C. Sims
Boise State University

Sponsoring Organizations:
Ada Community Library and the Idaho Humanities Council
through a special grant from The National Endowment for the Humanities

Raphael Cristy’s one man show about Charles Russell (1864-1926), a range-hand who became famous for his paintings and sculptures that depict the American West, consisted of a sequence of stories and anecdotes, told with Cristy assuming the character of Russell. The performance was accompanied by slides of Russell’s work. The first portion of the presentation dealt mostly with Russell as a “story-teller and jokester,” revealing his early life and his transition from city-dweller (St. Louis) , to cowpuncher, to artist. Cristy seemed to make a special effort to include “Idaho” material, which was effective in making a connection with the audience. This part of the evening slightly resembled a session at a cowboy poets’ gathering and revealed a lot about the turn of the century West, with emphasis on “Last Chance Gulch,” of Helena, Montana. The careful listener to these stories can learn a lot about nineteenth century attitudes about nature, wildlife, Indians, cattle range culture, as well as the cultural distance between the East and the West in that period.

The second part of the program dealt more with Russell the artist and sculptor, as he finally gave up his “cowpuncher” life for that of the artist, full-time. This included the remarkable transformation from Russell as a part time artist who gave his paintings away or sold them at what would later be seen as give-away prices, to that of an artist who could command up to $10,000 for a painting. It took some time for him to recognize the value of his own work. Cristy tells us, in his presentation, of the role his wife played in this, as she became his principal promoter and business partner.

Russell’s works have become symbols of the American West, and Cristy’s performance tells us a lot about the art and art history of that period, as well as providing some interesting insights into the life of this particular artist and the role of art in his life. Cristy made very effective use of just a few props to create the illusion that he was Charlie Russell. He stayed in character throughout the performance and it was easy to go along with this and feel that you were, in fact, listening to Charles Russell.

The humanities content of the performance was substantial, with particular insights into the “range culture” of early Montana, a culture that has come to stand for a much broader area of the West. Even if it is only a West of “memory,” it is still very strong and Russell, with his work standing as symbols of that west, remaining a very strong influence. For anyone interested in the West, this is an important program to view.

The Idaho Humanities Council got full credit for its sponsorship of the event, with posters identifying the Council at the entrance, and the logo on the program. In addition, Cristy gave special credit to the IHC in his introductory remarks. He provided interaction with the audience by making himself available in the Lobby and a number of people were able to visit with him about the performance and about Russell. He also had a “pre-performance” time when he played tapes of traditional western songs and accompanied them on the musical saw. During this time there was some exchange with the audience as well.

Overall, I would rate this as very high in humanities content and a project well worth supporting.

Robert C. Sims, June 20, 2000

Western Michigan University
Dr. Raeder Anderson Humanities Department

I am pleased to speak on behalf of Raphael Cristy and his recent appearances at Western Michigan University in “Charlie Russell’s Yarns.” Mr. Cristy presented his one-man show before three audiences, two of which were comprised of students from the sections of Direct Encounter With the Arts (General Humanities 102), the other before an audience of primarily townspeople from Kalamazoo; I feel very fortunate to have attended all three performances, which were varied and for which different material was presented on the colorful life of the American artist Charlie Russell (1864-1926).

Mr. Cristy is an accomplished performer who judiciously uses the theatre to entertain and educate; his material, historically accurate and far-reaching, is exemplary in its sturdier attributes of applied scholarship. Mr. Cristy, in the ambience of the theatre, presents part of our American heritage and does so honestly … sometimes joltingly, but always in a sensitive and intelligent manner. Mr. Cristy’s perception of Russell’s “before-his-time” views on Native Americans and the loving relationship that existed between the artist and his devoted and intelligent wife is told unsentimentally and with eloquent simplicity.

College students are often difficult to reach, perhaps, in part, jaded by contemporary entertainment standards which reflect an over-access-ability and titillating mediocrity; Mr. Cristy held these Western Michigan University students riveted to their seats and they, in turn, rewarded him with enthusiastic applause. Mr. Cristy, personable and amenable, allowed time to entertain questions from the audiences about his work and Charlie Russell’s life and art.

It is my hope Mr. Cristy will return to the campus of Western Michigan University once again in the very near future. I recommend this unique event to all who wish to expand their knowledge of art and the American heritage.

Kalamazoo Institute for the Arts
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Dear Raphael,

We greatly appreciated your willingness to take time from your visit to this area to provide an introductory slide lecture at our weekly noontime program as well as the performance that evening. You created a magical event which certainly went well beyond our expectations for the event. How lucky for all who had the pleasure of attending to be taken into the life and times of Charles M. Russell.

It was my pleasure to work with you. I certainly appreciated your professionalism as an art historian and admired your talent to blend your research with an entertaining and enlightening performance -- a museum educator’s dream!

Linda L.Young
Museum Education Coordinator

KIMO Theater
423 Central Avenue NW
Albuquerque New Mexico

Dear KIMO Theater:

Please let this letter stand as an unequivocal endorsement, (and for all thos letters other people don’t write,) of Raphael Cristy as C. M. (Charlie) Russell, cowboy, painter and storyteller. Raphael was Magical! Only word for it. Magical! I sat enraptured for more than 2 hours at his performance at the KIMO on April 23. The saw playing introduction was the perfect intro to the show.

At the end of his performance, Raphael mentioned that he had a Christmas show he would like to do at the KIMO. Speaking for myself, and a number of those people around me at the time of the performance, we would love it if you would let him bring Charle back to the stage at Christmastime. I sincerely hope you will bring him back for more Magical evenings of Charlie Russell Yarns.

In the meanwhile, I am savoring my Charlie Russell Old Montana Yarns tape.

I remain yours delightedly,

Nancy Thorndike Whitney
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Colorado Historical Society
The Colorado History Museum
Denver, Colorado

Dear Raphael,

Your program for our audience last week was absolutely fabulous. You drew the wildest of rave reviews that any presenter here has up until now. The evaluations that we circulated all indicate that yours was the “best ever” among the many high quality programs that we do every year. Everyone walked away with a wonderful sense of who Charlie Russell really was, given your incredible talents on stage combined with your thorough research and considerable enthusiasm for the topic. You truly were Charlie Russell, and captured all of the nuances of his personality in an extraordinary way. We all thank you for a superb performance and a most enjoyable and highly informative evening.

I’ll gladly give you the most positive endorsement possible should you want to use me for an reference. Best of luck – it was a pleasure working with you.

Robyn Jacobs
Special Programs Coordinator

New Book:
Hardback $45 plus shipping and handling from Raphael Cristy, P.O. Box 373, Albuquerque, NM, 87103. (505) 243-6779 or email to

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