About the Work of Art:

Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Painted wax, plaster, iron, and hemp, 1915
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Charles M. Russell (1864–1926), [Wolf], 1915, painted wax, plaster, iron, and hemp, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1961.52





Throughout his career Charles Russell created sculptures of a variety of animals. He sought to achieve realism by depicting an animal’s natural movement. His early animal works, like Wolf, were formed from beeswax mixed with a small amount of paraffin, various resins, and occasionally a bit of color. Here, no supporting armature was used under the beeswax. Once a figure was sculpted, Russell coated the surface with a protecting shellac. The bases of his small sculptures were made of wood or plaster of Paris, sometimes mixed with “grass” fabricated from recycled rope.

Although Russell sought to create painstakingly detailed sculptures from such materials as wax, string, wire, wood, and paint, these materials have gradually degraded over the years. A radiograph image of one sculpture reveals the shrinkage of wax over time, which affects the paint layer on the outermost surface, causing it to wrinkle. The radiograph also exposes the interior of the model, showing how Russell built the sculpture with a discontinuous wire armature, carpet tacks, and pins to attach the various parts together. Later in his career, Russell’s sculptures were cast in bronze, a much more durable material.

For Russell, storytelling was important, and many of his works of art reflect stories he had heard from Native American or cowboy sources. Native American stories, which often told how animals evolved, inspired Russell’s sculptures. In fact, in 1915 Russell illustrated a collection of Native American stories, called Indian Why Stories, with author and friend Frank Bird Linderman (1869–1938). The wolf figures prominently in Native American stories and is described as the spirit of war and the chase, creator, and older brother of the coyote. Through sculpture, Russell created the three-dimensional equivalents of the animals seen in his paintings and drawings.

Throughout Russell’s lifetime, the wolf was considered one of the westerner’s greatest enemies. Associated with age-old fears and mythical beliefs, the wolf stood little chance of being appreciated or understood. Nevertheless, Russell was as sympathetic as possible to the plight of the wolf, while maintaining the friendship of many of his Montana peers. He viewed the wolf as a necessary and worthy part of nature. As the animal was hunted to near extinction, Russell admired its cunning and instinct for survival. In his bronzes, the artist depicts the wolf as a lone outlaw, always cautious of its uncertain future.


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