Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Montana's Charlie Russell

The Montana Historical Society (MHS) boasts one of the best collections of Charles M. Russell art in the world. We welcome school groups and invite you to bring your class to tour Russell’s masterpieces in person.

However, we know that not everyone can make it to the museum in Helena. The Montana's Charlie Russell curriculum packet is designed to help you bring Russell’s artwork to your classroom. The curriculum packet includes all the resources on this website as well as fifteen prints of selected paintings, letters, and sculptures by the Cowboy Artist. These packets were sent to all Montana public school libraries in October 2015.

This web-based version of the curriculum includes the following:


  • Montana’s Charlie Russell (elementary), a biographical PowerPoint with a script (targeted to elementary students) that provides an overview of Russell’s life and work
  • Montana’s Charlie Russell (upper grades), a biographical PowerPoint with a script (targeted to middle and high school students) that provides an overview of Russell’s life and work
  • A PowerPoint of the Russell images provided in the packet plus a bonus image, Lewis and Clark Meeting Indians at Ross’ Hole. to project for class discussion

Lesson Plans

Three hands-on art lessons:

  • “Watercolors of the Big Sky” (grades 3–5) uses Russell’s art to help students explore the compositional elements of foreground, middle ground, and background before having them create landscape paintings inspired by nature, using watercolor techniques.
  • “Illustrating a la Charlie Russell” (grades 6–12) asks students to explore how Russell used washes of watercolor and ink techniques to create shadow and depth in his illustrations. Students will then choose an animal to illustrate using these techniques. The illustrations can be paired with a poem, short story, or letter they have written.
  • “Figures in Motion” (grades 7–12) guides students in an exploration of movement. Using Charlie Russell’s paintings and sculptures as inspiration, students will create their own three-dimensional sculptures, translating movement from line drawings to wire armatures to simulated bronze works.

Five lesson plans that engage students in critically examining Russell’s paintings as they practice Common Core skills:

  • “An Artist’s Journey: Transform a Painting into Poetry” (grades 1–7) asks students to examine several Russell paintings using their five senses, before choosing one painting to use as an inspiration for a poem.
  • “The Rest of the Story” (grades 3–7) engages students in an analysis of several pieces of Russell art before asking them to choose one to use as inspiration to write a story.
  • “Living with Animals” (grades 4–7) examines the way humans’ relationship to the natural world has changed over time, while using Russell’s art to explore the importance of animals to Russell and the people he painted.
  • “Russell on Indians” (grades 7–12) explores the topic of stereotypes, especially about Indians. After class discussion, students will examine several Russell paintings during a “gallery walk” to explore how the artist did and did not reinforce Indian stereotypes.
  • “What Don’t You See? The Historical Accuracy of Charles M. Russell Paintings” (grades 7–12) asks students to evaluate Russell’s artwork to decide how accurately it depicts Montana history. After examining what they do see, students will look at what elements Russell left out and discuss ways in which Russell’s depictions of the “Old West” have shaped our view of Montana history.

Additional Material

Want more information on Russell? In 2015 Montana Historical Society Press published Montana's Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society, a 432-page full color catalog; and a postcard book (The Art of Charlie Russell: Postcards from the Montana Historical Society). Both are available through booksellers and the Montana Historical Society Museum Store: 1-800-243-9900. In addition, the Montana Historical Society Museum has made its Russell collection available through an online catalog. Browse it here.