In 2012, the Great Falls Ad Club was in the process of launching its new autumn art show, Colors of the Fall. Ad Club member Charles Fulcher, who had served as Chairman of the Russell Auction (prior to the parting of ways between Ad Club and the C.M. Russell Museum), was tasked with finding a venue. While touring the Exhibition Hall at the Montana ExpoPark, it
was pointed out that the facility was perfect for an art show, as it “used to” hold the Jay Contway & Friends Art Show for 20 years.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute. Used to?’ They said, ‘Yes, he’s moving to the Hilton.’ I said, ‘I’ll book it,’” Fulcher remembers.
Having worked the Russell Auction for twenty years, he knew how to organize a show. As a graphic designer, he could easily build a logo and promotional materials. As an entertainer, who knew how to get people fired up for a good time. He spent the rest of the year touring art shows throughout the West, inviting artists and artisans to take a chance on him, and in March 2013, Fulcher held the very first Great Western Art Show & Sale.
“It didn’t make any profit, but it sure was fun!” he laughs.
In truth, Fulcher knew the first year wouldn’t be a financial success (for him, anyway); the objective was to generate enough excitement in the event to make it memorable to attendees and worthwhile to his sixty participating vendors. To that end, the show featured musical acts all three nights: Cold Hard Cash, Wylie and the Wild West, and the reunion of Pollo Loco.
“That drew in a lot of people,” Fulcher remembers.
The Exhibition Hall was packed that inaugural year. Already, the Great Western Show & Sale was so popular that it needed room to grow.
“At that time, the Great Falls Gun & Antique Show was in the Four Seasons Arena but only needed half the space. I proposed that we switch spots, and it worked well for both of us,” he remembers.
To fill the new venue, Fulcher began selling booths to not only artists, but art shows. Five years in, the Celebration of Native Plains Artists joined him, and today, four separate art shows (along with several independent artists and artisans) operate under the banner of The Great Western Show.
“Some vendors have been with me for ten years. Some have careers that exploded, and they’ve moved on. That’s one thing about this show is that it has some of the top artists—some of the well-known names in there—but it has beginning talent too,” explains Fulcher. “I want to give the beginners a chance… because someone gave me a chance.”
Looking back, Fulcher is thankful for all the participants in the Western art community and all the attendees in the Great Falls community who helped to make this show a success.
Looking ahead, he can’t wait to see how the show grows and evolves with time. If it’s this good after ten years, who knows how great the Great Western Show will be at twenty.
The Great Western Art Show is located at the Montana ExpoPark in Great Falls, March 16-19, 2023. To learn more, visit thegreatwesternshow.com.
The Best of the West Art Show Legends West Art Show Celebration of Native Plains Artists Great Western Show
Thusday, Friday, Saturday – 10am-8pm Sunday – 10am-3pm
Native American Dancers 4pm Pollo Loco 6pm
Cowboy Church 9am