February 14, 2019

My Valentine

by Jennifer Bottomly-O'Looney, MHS Museum Senior Curator

Charles M. Russell and Nancy Cooper were married on September 9, 1896, in a ceremony at the home of their good friends Ben and Lela Roberts. The bride wore a blue wedding dress that Lela Roberts made for her.[i]

Charlie Russell and wife Nancy, 1896, Elite Studio
[MHS Photo Archives # 944-674

The event was newsworthy. As the Anaconda Standard reported, “Wednesday evening at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. B. R. Roberts, Miss Mamie Mann and Charles M. Russell were united in marriage by Rev. B. W. Pierce. A large number of guests were present and after the ceremony the party sat down to an elaborate collation. The occasion was one of the most pleasant social events ever held in Cascade where the couple have many friends.” The Standard noted that “Charley Russell, the happy groom, is known all over the west as the ‘Cowboy Artist’ . . .  [and] now more than ever before [he] will confine himself to his profession. In the classic language of Charley, he’s ‘done settled down to business and can’t trot with the gang anymore…’” [ii] They honeymooned in the small twelve by twenty-four-foot shack behind the Robert’s house, where they would make their home.

My Valentine
Watercolor and gouache, ca. 1896-1897, 18” H x 15½” W
Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Sheridan in memory of Lela V. Roberts
[MHS Museum Accession X1954.03.03]

Charlie was persuaded to paint the very atypical, and romantic watercolor, My Valentine, for his friend Lela, who used it as a sign for a candy booth set up as a fund-raiser for a church social. It was given to the Montana Historical Society in memory of the donor’s mother, Lela V. Roberts. Both Lela and her husband, Ben Roberts, were close friends of Russell’s. The Roberts’s home is where Russell first met Nancy and where they married. [iii]

[i] Brian Dippie, Shaping of Russell’s Art, 6
[ii] Anaconda Standard, September 13, 1896, 13
[iii] MHS Curatorial Records.