By Hope Good

The expansion of the West was inevitable. In the mid 1800s, as travel was not a simple matter, most people learned about different places from reproductions of those places through art. The American West inspired artists of all media to explore its vast thematic potential. While many artists focused on the breathtaking beauty of the natural landscape, sculptors working in three dimensions were particularly drawn to human and animal subjects.

Through photographs, sketches, and paintings, Easterners became enthralled with the romance of the West. Images of the incredible vastness of the West brought about economic development and early communications systems, which resulted in the great wagon trains carrying those searching for adventure and a new life. When the Western frontier was officially closed in 1890, many artists of the time were frantic to capture a life that was quickly disappearing. The flourish of paintings and photographs from this period will ensure that this nostalgic time will not be forgotten.

Art depicting nature and ways of Western life drew thousands to take a chance on a new life. Even today, this same art inspires the imagination to recall a time, not so long ago, when the buffalo roamed free on the prairie and Native Americans led a nomadic lifestyle. For many in the eastern U.S. and around the world, this art still contributes to preconceived ideas of what the West is today.

Each year in March, hundreds of nationally recognized, contemporary Western artists exhibit their best work in Great Falls, Montana. The diverse works represent the extraordinary range of subject matter that contemporary, historic, and mythic Western experiences inspire. Western Art Week, founded in 1969, is held the same week as Charlie Russell’s birthday (March 19). Russell was an important and prolific Western artist whose works can be found in over 50 museums in the United States. Created in his honor, Western Art Week has transformed Great Falls into a Western art mecca with different shows all over town.

Western Art Week is an exciting experience for artists and patrons alike, a time to personally meet many artists, see old friends, and talk with art lovers. The broad range of artwork displayed around town is incredible, and aside from being a great investment, these works make outstanding gifts for anyone who enjoys art.