By Joanne Sanford

Chuck Fulcher started the Great Western Show in 2013. He had attended larger art shows and realized he wanted to include more than fine art, bronzes and sculptures. He wanted a “Show of Experience” where you can feel a Western couch, not just see it in a magazine; or pick up a bowl crafted by an artisan rather than mass produced in a factory. He wanted visitors to have a more tactile experience into the Western way of life.

Having worked the Russell Auction in Great Falls for twenty years, Fulcher knew how to put a show together. He spent 2012 touring art shows throughout the West, checking them out and recruiting artists and artisans.

The show’s first year was in the Exhibition Hall at Montana ExpoPark. It was not a financial success (for him, anyway); but it was a great opportunity to generate excitement in the show and to create a memorable experience for both vendors and visitors. He featured musical acts all three nights that drew in a lot of people.

Fulcher knew he would need more room the following year and he was able to book the Four Seasons Arena. He had a vision to create a space with more than one show in the same place. He had heard from visitors to his show asking why there were so many shows in town, making it difficult to go from one to another. To that end, he added the Celebration of Native Plains Artists Show followed by some members of the Jay Contway Show after he passed away in 2019. Legends West Art Show joined in 2021 and The Best of the West Art Show joined in 2022. Fulcher explains, “I didn’t fill the whole arena right away, but now there is a waiting list every year.”

Fulcher has learned a lot from the various groups in his show. The Native American artists have taught him much about their culture; how family and friends always come first to them. He has also learned about the art world culture and how artists are aware of each other.

What Fulcher inevitably wants the vendors in his show to realize about his show is that it is not necessarily a place to make sales, but a place where they can share with potential buyers what it means to be an artist and what a particular painting represents to the artist, what story it tells. When a buyer understands more about the artists’ or artisans’ motivation in creating a certain piece, it can lead to a sale, a commission, or a referral.

Fulcher’s ultimate goal in his show is to get vendors and buyers together so all can appreciate our Western way of life. He loves to give young artists a break, putting them next to an experienced artist. Some of his vendors have been with him for years, and some have only come a couple times and the recognition they received grew so fast that their careers just exploded. Looking back, he is very thankful to the Great Falls community for their support over the years.

In 2024, the Great Western Show will be on March 14-17.

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