For the first time in our gallery, the Sid Richardson Museum has on display Western Scene by Charlie Russell, included in the current exhibition Western Treasures. Scholars consider this painting to be the artist’s first formal commission. Still in transition from cowboy to artist, Russell lacked the usual canvas and oils and instead opted for a pine board and house paints as his materials.
Patroned by James R. Shelton, the proprietor of the Shelton Saloon, Western Scene was originally placed above his bar in Utica, Montana. Now in the Sid Richardson Museum collection, the painting retained the nail holes from which it hung, suspended by rope. To fill these cavities, the museum called upon paintings conservator Helen Houp. Helen was previously a member of the conservation team at the Kimbell Art Museum, and for the past 12 years has been conducting a private practice that serves both museums and private collectors.
As a preventative treatment, Helen and her assistant Donna Walker filled in the holes with microcrystalline wax to keep the wood intact and prevent moisture from seeping in, creating further cracks. Likewise, Helen addressed a small crack in the painting by waxing over and using inpainting to cover. The wax provides just the right amount of softness to manipulate and move with the wood.
Western Scene, both raw in material and style, is a triptych that represents three subjects to which Russell would later return. Spend more time with this rare gem during our upcoming adult program, Tea & Talk, as we engage in lively discussion and enjoy some afternoon tea.