The C.M. Russell Museum announced today the gift of two important watercolors by Charles M. Russell (1864–1926) and the personal research library of Frederic G. Renner by the estates of Renner and his wife, Ginger K. Renner, both of Scottsdale, Arizona, and their families.
The two watercolors are When I Was a Kid (1905), a self-portrait of the artist as a young man in buckskins, riding his pinto Monte and accompanied by the trapper Jake Hoover, and Meat for the Wagons (1925), a late work showing a scout hunting bison for a wagon train, which was the first original Russell artwork that Fred Renner acquired.
“These two paintings are very special and, in a sense, form bookends of Russell’s career,” said Sarah Burt, chief curator at the Russell Museum. “Russell painted When I Was a Kid in 1905, about midway in his career, but the subject matter is a nostalgic look back to the beginning of his life as a Montana cowboy. He painted Meat for the Wagons one year before his death,” Burt continued, “to thank his hosts in Washington, D.C., after he visited the Corcoran Gallery to see what turned out to be the last major exhibition of his art held during his lifetime. The Russell Museum is honored that Fred and Ginger Renner and their families chose these outstanding and meaningful watercolors to become part of the museum’s permanent collection.”
In addition to the watercolors, Fred Renner’s personal library was also gifted to the Russell Museum and, once catalogued, will be housed in the Frederic G. Renner Library, the museum’s research library established in 1987 to honor Renner’s memory. The bequest contains hundreds of books, photographs, records, and publications on Russell that Renner assembled during 75 years of collecting.
The outstanding bequest follows the death in March 2011 of Ginger Renner, nationally recognized Western art dealer and expert on Charles Russell. In 1973, she married Fred Renner, who, until his death in 1987, was considered the world’s foremost authority on Charles Russell. The Renners met in Great Falls in 1970 at the second annual Russell Art Auction.
A Great Falls native, Fred Renner developed a passion for Charles Russell at a young age. His parents were friends of Charles and Nancy Russell, and Renner’s first memories were of Russell’s action-filled paintings displayed in the businesses of downtown Great Falls. Renner started collecting Charlie Russell postcards at the age of five. In 1938, he acquired his first original Russell artwork—Meat for the Wagons—after mortgaging his house to raise the money to buy it.
In 1961, Renner retired from his position as soil conservation and range management specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to devote himself full time to Russell research and collecting. He assembled an archive of more than 4,000 records on Russell’s artistic output, as well as a large collection of Russell paintings, sculpture, personal effects, and memorabilia.
Upon Fred Renner’s death, Ginger assumed her husband’s role of foremost Russell expert and authenticator, serving for two decades as an advisor and consultant to auction houses, museums, and galleries. She was a founding member of the Russell Museum’s national advisory board, formed in 1983, and sat on its board of directors. She was a generous contributor to the museum’s development fund and a major resource for the Russell catalogue raisonné, which was completed in 2007 by the Charles M. Russell Center at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City.
Continuing the tradition of generous support for the C.M. Russell Museum, members of the Renner family have placed 30 works of art from the Renner Estate, including 20 by Russell, into the museum’s upcoming auction The Russell: The Sale to Benefit the C.M. Russell Museum, to be held March 15–17, 2012.
“Highlights of this rare group of objects include The Bucker (possibly Russell’s first watercolor), Russell’s sensuous 1897 watercolor Waiting for Her Brave’s Return, two Russell illustrated letters, and a remarkable selection of early Russell pencil sketches, pen-and-ink drawings, and bronzes,” noted Burt. “And if these aren’t exciting enough, the Renner group also features a lovely portrait by Nicolai Fechin and works by Nick Eggenhofer, Edward Borein, Olaf Wieghorst, and Will James. I can’t think of a more distinguished provenance from which to acquire works of art than the collection of Fred and Ginger Renner.”
“The Russell Museum is very grateful to the Renner family for placing these wonderful artworks in the Russell 2012,” said Susan Johnson, the museum’s chief operations officer. “We hope for record prices, because the proceeds of the auction provide crucial support for the museum’s operations and educational and curatorial programming.”
The mission of the C.M. Russell Museum is to collect, preserve, research, interpret, and educate on the art and life of Charles M. Russell; the art and life of his contemporaries; and the art of preceding and ensuing generations that depicts and focuses on the culture, life, and country of Russell’s West.