Western Artists Bringing the West to Life

Painting of a Native American woman looking back while riding a white horse. Artist: Amy Livzey-Brakeman


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Many artists have been celebrated for their vivid depictions of the landscapes and history of the West. Here are a few Western artists from Montana and Idaho.

Montana Artists

Charles Marion Russell, known as Charlie, moved to the Judith Basin area of Montana in 1880 at the age of 16, to be a “cowpuncher,” and he never left his adopted state.  

Russell began sketching in his free time and taught himself a variety of mediums, becoming best known for his oil paintings. He created more than 4,000 works of art in paint, bronze, ink, and wax. Russell’s first sculpture, depicting a buffalo hunt by Plains indigenous people, was cast in bronze in 1904. 

His wife, Nancy, became his manager, and it was largely because of her business acumen that Russell gained fame in the United States and beyond. 

The artist died in 1926. Some of his western-themed art can be seen at his house and studio, now the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls. 

Hadley Ferguson has been working on public and private art commissions since graduating from the University of Montana with a B.A. in Fine Arts in 1999. 

In 2011, she was commissioned to create a privately funded historic mural in the Montana State Capitol Building. Ferguson says the mural, “… is about the generations of women in Montana who built families and contributed to their communities, to the economy, and to politics by working together to build strong communities for generations to come.” 

Ferguson’s previous commissions include “Heart of Missoula Murals,” murals at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, and the “Missoula Catholic School Heritage Project.”

Carol Hartman describes herself as a “proud descendant of homesteading families along the Missouri River in northeast Montana.” While teaching in the California State University system, she honed her artistic skills and exhibited her paintings both nationally and internationally. 

Hartman returned to Montana in 2009 and soon began researching Montana homesteaders. The art she created based on this research can be seen in solo and group shows from now through November 2022. 

Amy Brakeman Livezey often finds inspiration from photographs of historical Montana—especially those of homesteading women—displayed at the Montana Historical Society in Helena. On her website she writes, “My paintings are explorations of history using paint, photographic finds, pieces of paper old and new, and a variety of tools … for a fresh look at the past.” 

After receiving a Master’s in Fine Arts in film and film studies, Brakeman Livezey made her way to Helena. There she designed custom homes for 11 years and married landscape artist Dale Livezey. 

Since becoming a full-time artist a few years ago, her work has been exhibited at Radius Gallery in Missoula and at Art Spirit Gallery in Idaho, among other locations. 

Idaho Artists

James Castle was born in Garden Valley, Idaho, in 1899. Profoundly deaf, he was never taught to read, write, or sign, and he lived as a recluse on his family’s farm. 

Castle taught himself to draw, using soot and spit mixed together, and he became particularly known for his drawings of intricately detailed interior scenes and landscapes. He also made striking sculptural constructions from twine, food wrappers, found paper, graphite, string, and ribbon. 

After his death in 1977, Castle’s work gained national and international fame through a Philadelphia retrospective in 2008, a large show in Spain in 2011, and a traveling group show called Outliers and American Vanguard Art. The James Castle Collection and Archive in Boise houses thousands of his drawings, constructions, and artifacts.

Rose Frank, of the Nez Perce tribe, was born in Sweetwater, Idaho, in 1912. After attending a textile arts class as an adult, she became highly skilled at creating corn-husk bags. She went on to practice and teach traditional weaving for more than 40 years, selling many of her unique bags. 

Many of her projects featured traditional geometric Nez Perce patterns and used materials like colorful acrylic yarn or dyed twine. 

In 1991, Frank received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, and she received the Idaho Governor’s Folk Award. Her artwork is displayed in multiple exhibitions and permanent collections, including the Nez Perce National Historical Park Museum and the Smithsonian’s Modern American Indian collection. 

Rachel Teannalach focuses on Idaho’s natural world in her bold landscape paintings, finding much of her inspiration along the hiking trails near her Boise home. Her website says, “Teannalach’s work is guided by the belief that the observation of nature revives our recognition of beauty and restores our sense of belonging in the natural world.”

For the past several years, she has focused on collaborating with land conservation organizations as well as focused on her art. In addition, she donates a portion of the sales of her paintings to a nonprofit, called, Plastic Bank, and uses re-purposed substrates in her paintings. 

Teannalach has gallery representation at Capitol Contemporary Gallery in Boise, Idaho, and Echo Arts in Bozeman, Montana. MSN

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