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Feb 18th
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Home People & Lifestyle Western Art 40th Annual C.M. Russell Art Auction Sets All New Records

40th Annual C.M. Russell Art Auction Sets All New Records

Great Falls, Montana Annual Event Showcases 300 artworks; Has Raised More Than $5 Million to Benefit Russell Museum Programs, Art Purchases

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The 40th Annual C.M. Russell Auction, held March 12-15, 2008, eclipsed last year's record-setting $2.4 million weekend with an auction total of just under $3 million.

Highlights of the 2008 event, which took place at Great Falls, Mont., included a single-night auction record of $2,052,750, smashing last year's $1.46 million record.

Saturday night's record was set in motion with the sale of Russell's "Robbing the Eagle's Nest," which sold for $300,000, topping the previous high for a Russell painting of $240,000 set in 2002.

Andy Thomas, who had earlier in the week received the Jurors' Best of Show award for his oil painting entitled "Charlie Russell and His Characters," sold his piece for $180,000, which is the highest price ever paid for a piece of art at the auction by any artist other than Russell.

One of this year's honored guest artist's, Martin Grelle, sold his oil painting entitled "Crows on the Yellowstone" for a healthy $150,000.

Friday and Saturday's C.M. Russell Quick Draw competition produced a record total of over $100,000, pushing the event's 31-year total donation to over $1 million, with 100 percent of Quick Draw proceeds going directly to the C.M. Russell Museum.

On Saturday, Shawn Cameron, the other honored guest artist for this year's auction, brought in $8,000 for her Quick Draw entitled "Reminiscing." Andy Thomas brought in $9,000 for his painting of an Indian on horseback hunting buffalo.

Top honors for Friday Night's Quick Draw went to Grelle's painting, selling for $18,000. Saturday night's Quick Draw went to Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey for a dye-on-silk piece entitled "Camas Prairie Moon," which went for $9,500.

Other Auction Highlights:

  • Ralph "Tuffy" Berg Award Winner - Elizabeth Pruitt, Olathe, Kan.; Oil Painting - "Jade Jar and Oranges"
  • C.M. Russell Museum CEO Award Winner - Laurie Stevens, Cascade, Mont.; Oil Painting - "Little Star"
  • Juror's Best of Show - Andy Thomas, Carthage, Mo.; Oil Painting - "Charlie Russell and His Characters"
  • People's Choice Award (Painting) - Kristi Billmayer; Oil Painting - " Motley Crew"
  • People's Choice Award (Sculpture) - Christy Daniels, Frenchtown, Mont.; Sculpture - "Crossing, See You on the Other Side"
  • Bob Scriver Award - Bruce Brock, Auctioneer from LeMars, Iowa

The 40th Annual C.M. Russell Auction is a production of the Great Falls Advertising Federation for the benefit of the C.M. Russell Museum.

Since its inception the Great Falls Advertising Federation has donated over $5 million to the C.M. Russell Museum. Scheduled dates for the 2009 C.M. Russell Auction are March 18-21 at the Heritage Inn, Great Falls, Montana.

C.M. Russell Auction Background

Much of what we think we know about the Old West comes from the artists of the late 1800s, men such as Charles M. Russell and Frederick Remington who lived during those times and painted what they saw.

What they painted not only captivated a public audience fascinated by the images of cowboys, Plains Indians and gunfighters, the artists of the 1800s inspired other artists to paint the West, and continue to inspire to this day.

So when the Great Falls Advertising Federation needed to find a way to raise money, it was almost a no-brainer: hold an auction of Western art.

For 39 years the Great Falls Advertising Federation (Ad Club) has been raising money to benefit the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, as well as helping to fund the Ad Club's programs as well. For information about 2009's auction, go to the Web site at

The year 2008 marked the 40th annual C.M. Russell Art Auction. The event has become a magnet for Western artists, art dealers and private collectors from all over North America.

The auction traditionally takes place the weekend closest to Russell's birthday, which is March 19.

"We see lots of private aircraft parked at the Great Falls Airport, people flying in to attend the auction," Terry Hilgendorf, this year's Ad Club auction chairman, told OldWestNewWest.Com. "It has become one of the premier Western art auctions in the United States."

To date, the Ad Club has sold more than $24 million in artwork, and donated more than $5 million to the Russell Museum.

"We sold $2.5 million in artwork last year," he added. "It just grows bigger every year. We have waiting lists of artists that want to get in. I think this we'll go over $3 million this year."

     The C.M. Russell Museum also exhibited much of the Western art to go on auction this year. The 2008 auction included art by deceased and contemporary artists, including Clyde Aspevig, Joseph Bohler, Thomas deDecker, Charles Fritz, E.I. Couse, J.H. Sharp, Xiang Zhang, and C.M. Russell himself.

"Without the annual contribution from the Great Falls Advertising Federation, the C.M. Russell Museum would be a very different place," Anne Morand, the museum's director and chief executive officer, told OldWestNewWest.Com.

"Over the past 40 years, the gift from the Ad Club has made it possible for us to develop new exhibitions and educational programming," she added, "and to purchase new works of art that benefit not only the Great Falls visitors, but also those from all over the country."

The museum's Web site can be found at

The Russell Art Auction has become more than just another art auction, Hilgendorf said.

"Over the years, people have made friends with other people who come to the auction, and for some it's the only time they get to see each other," he said. "It's become a social event for artists and buyers both."

The Russell Auction also has become such a draw that it has spawned other smaller auctions that take place in Great Falls around the auction dates.

"Now we sort of call it Western Art Week in Great Falls," he added.

With a benefit auction the size of the Russell Auction, where do you put it?

"We had more than 100 exhibit rooms at the Heritage Inn in Great Falls," Hilgendorf explained. "They set aside guest rooms for us, took out all the furniture and then the displays were brought in. We had five or six rooms where we have art from deceased artists."

One of the highlights of the Russell Auction is an event called the Quick Draw.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "Before the auction starts we'll have 12 artists producing art as people watch. People walk around, maybe have a glass of wine, and watch the artists create. Then they get the chance to bid on the art later on."

Quick Draw auctions have netted the museum just under $1 million since the first Quick Draw held in 1977. One hundred percent of the Quick Draw proceeds are donated to the museum.

The 2008 event was the second auction for Hilgendorf to serve as chairman. "I did one 11 years ago. Normally who ever serves as chairman only does it once because it is so much work," he said. Hilgendorf manages a title insurance company in Great Falls. "But I always wanted to do two. It is a lot of work, but it is a labor of love."

People & Lifestyle