MISSOULA, Montana – World-famous cowboy artist Charlie Russell (1864-1926), apparently liking it “hot” – or at least sandy, will return from the “Great Divide” this weekend to pose on Coronado Beach with some of his 1923 friends, albeit a little stiffly. Beginning at dawn, Friday, Aug. 21, MontanaPBS will be filming acclaimed Western artist Thom Ross as he installs a cast of life-sized, painted plywood cutouts of 1920s characters on Coronado Beach. After they have been installed, MontanaPBS will film the ways in which sunbathers, surfers and dog walkers, among others, interact with the art. The installation is part of a MontanaPBS documentary-film project titled “C. M. Russell and the American West,” which will premiere in Montana the fall 2016 and nationally in 2017.
The Coronado/San Diego installation will mimic an illustrated letter that Russell wrote while in California in 1923. New Mexico-based artist Ross will install seven life-sized characters, including an amused image of cowboy Russell observing a California beach scene. The cameras will catch summer of 2015 beachgoers interacting with their century-earlier predecessors.
In 2004, Ross installed a massive 200-character, six-acre tableau of “Custer’s Last Stand” at the Little Big Horn in Montana, and in 2008, had the city of San Francisco abuzz as he re-created a famous 1902 publicity photograph with 108 Indian figures from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and installed them on a 200-yard stretch of Ocean Beach, not far from the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ross’ work focuses on novel ways of portraying iconic Americans, usually from the Old West. His art seeks to peel back layers of legend to reveal complex relationships between characters, landscape, history, mythology, imagination and drama – in many ways similar to the efforts of the MontanaPBS documentary, which aims to uncover the reality of Russell and the American West.
The MontanaPBS production team has been filming historians, scholars, artists, writers, cowboys and Indians across the West the past two years, piecing together the life story of an iconic American artist who helped shape Western mythology and eventually, the Hollywood film industry.
Staff from San Diego’s KPBS-TV will assist in the filming.
MontanaPBS is based at the University of Montana in Missoula, and at Montana State University in Bozeman.