Saturday, May 12, 2007

ARTISTS IN LOVE, part nine

Cowboy illustrator Charlie Russell (1864-1926) apparently melted down a gold nugget to make this ring for his 18 year old bride-to-be, the lovely Nancy Cooper of Cascade, Montana.

History does not record whether Nancy had qualms about putting on a saddle as a symbol of their marriage. Coming from a cowboy in the old west, perhaps such a ring even qualified as romantic.

Wedding picture of Charlie and Nancy, 1896

Before Charlie got married, his art studio was a back room in Jim Shelton's Saloon in Utica. After they were married, Nancy moved Charlie's studio into a respectable log cabin where she cleaned him up and sold his work. By most accounts she made him a success. It's not clear who really wore the saddle in their marriage. I suspect that, as with most long term relationships, the difference between who rides and who is ridden depends only on the time of day.

I kinda like this ring, both as a sculpture and as a symbol. Some might view it as a symbol of oppression, and perhaps it is, but there is a lot to be said for Robert Frost's insight into the true nature of freedom: "You have freedom when you're easy in your harness."

Charlie and Nancy seem to have been happy together. They lived through 30 interesting years of great change, until Charlie died of a heart attack. Then Nancy and their son packed up and left Montana forever. Years later, the US government established the
Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge near the beautiful place where for 30 years Charlie and Nancy spent their nights under the big Montana stars.

When I look at Nancy's ring, I can't help hearing the faint strains of an old calypso song that Harry Belafonte sang in the 1950s:

My girl's name is Senora.
I tell you friends, I adore her...
Senora's dance has no title.
Just jump in the saddle, hold on to the bridle.



Anonymous said...

As I have said before, you series "Artist in Love" is my favorite. I think this must be because of the romantic in me. YOur observations about relationships amuse me and make me think. Often outloud. To my husband's amusement.

At the risk of being too derivative (or commercial) I say-

One gold saddle ring: thousands of dollars.

One DA quote: Priceless

"It's not clear who really wore the saddle in their marriage. I suspect that, as with most long term relationships, the difference between who rides and who is ridden depends only on the time of day."

I just love it!!! -cpyne

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, cpyne. Lots of interesting things seem to take place at the intersection of art and love. Sometimes they illuminate the subject of art. Sometimes they illuminate the subject of love. And sometimes it's just a promising street corner for voyeurs.

A menina da Ilustrarte said...

visit this illustration site.

It is about an international competition of illustration

pk said...

Thanks David. Beautiful post. That is a gorgeous photo of Nancy - I note from the wikipedia article that she was largely responsible for establishing her husband's national and international reputation. That seems right somehow. So sayeth this street corner voyeur.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, pk-- I am not surprised that you paused at the faces in the old photograph. I confess I lingered there myself. She is a beauty and I'll bet she had a backbone of reinforced concrete, too. They needed it back then.

Anonymous said...

Russell didn't make the ring. Nancy never wore the ring. The ring was made by Joe. DeYong long after the Russell's were marriied. People have tried to peddle this ring with the fictious story for decades, yet it keeps popping up after each time the lie is revealed.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- an interesting assertion about the source of the ring. Since Russell's son wrote that his father made the ring for his mother and passed it down to his son in 1925 (the signed affidavit can be seen at and the ring was later sold in a highly publicized national auction for nearly $55,000 with no challenge to its authenticity, it's a little difficult to put much weight on an anonymous, unsubstantiated remark over the internet. I took a quick look around and found no support for your view. However, if you have any authority to offer, I'd be interested in seeing it.