February 6, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day , Love Charlie

Jennifer Bottomly-O'looney
Senior Curator
Montana Historical Society

My Valentine by Charles M. Russell
watercolor and gouache, ca. 1896-1897, 18” H x 15½” W
Historical Society Collection, Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Sheridan in memory of Lela V. Roberts, X1954.03.03

In My Valentine the artist surrounds the beautiful central figure with a decidedly Russell-esque sinuous, heart-shaped frame and places two putti floating next to her.

After a courtship of just over one-year Charlie and Nancy Russell—whom Charlie called Mame or Mamie—were married on September 9, 1896, in a ceremony at the home of their good friends Ben and Lela Roberts. It was in the Roberts’s home in Cascade where Russell had first met Nancy the year before. The bride wore a blue wedding dress that Lela Roberts made for her.  The event was newsworthy. As the Anaconda Standard on reported on September 13:

“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. Many 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.’”

The couple honeymooned in the small twelve by twenty-four-foot shack behind the Robert’s house, where they would make their first home.

Charlie was persuaded to paint this 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 in Cascade. It was given to the Montana Historical Societyin 1954 in memory of the donor’s mother, Lela V. Roberts.