Art Gallery: Rich Charlson – Cowboys and Indians Magazine.

This Montana farmer has ways to grow dryland crops and turn a tree.

It was 1985. A hailstorm had just destroyed Montana farmer Rich Charlson’s crops. But life goes on and as the saying goes “when a door closes…”

When his local AQHA Equine Prospect needed a sign for Stallion Alley, Charlson created one out of redwood, engraving it by hand with a router. His craftsmanship was a hit. “People loved it and I started getting orders,” he says. “It almost became a business.” Despite the loss of those crops, he says, “We had a good Christmas making signs.”

Sacred circle.

Three years later, those signs had left behind a pile of scrap wood, and Charlson had an idea. He glued these pieces together, bought a second-hand lathe, and learned to turn the wood into bowls.

Today, Charleson’s unique, intricate, one-of-a-kind bowls, baskets and other beautiful wooden creations are among the fine art featured in Montana’s prestigious annual Russell Art Auction, sold alongside original works by his namesake, the legendary western painter Charles M. Russell and some of the most distinguished artists working today. “I was the first woodturner to ever have a piece at The Russell,” Charlson says. “My honor.”

Staring at the heavens.

She’s not his only one. He was among the first class in 2008 to be inducted into the Montana Circle of American Folk and Traditional Art Masters. “I still don’t consider myself a master,” he admits. “I never made that perfect piece. I’m always learning.”

If not perfect – at least according to him – Charlson’s works are stunning in their form and detailed beauty. At first glance, many look like finely woven Native American bowls and baskets. “I look at a lot of Native American designs,” he says. “That will trigger something in my mind and I’ll rearrange the whole design and come up with a bowl.”

Firestorm Illusions.

The patterns and colors are created with natural wood, meticulously crafted with thousands of individual pieces laminated together, turned, sanded and polished. The job takes an incredible amount of time. Broken dreams, a Russell auction entry, was built from 12,000 parts that took six weeks to complete. But the artist loses himself in the work he loves. “It’s kind of like fishing,” Charlson says. “It’s really relaxing. No one bothers you. All the cares of the world go away. And it keeps me out of my wife’s hair.

His better half keeps him grounded. “I have some of my old bowls,” he says. “When I get cocky, my wife pulls them out and says, ‘See where it started?!’

We come from the same place (above).

We came from the same place (country).

1/2

Charlson still lives and works on his family farm near Great Falls, Montana. The property, which began as his great-grandfather’s homestead, celebrated its centennial in 2012. Growing wheat, barley and peas, the now semi-retired farmer spends the slow winter months creating his bowls and other artwork, working seven days a week from October to are marching Virtually every piece featured on his website sells, but Charlson brings about 40 new pieces each year to the popular Christmas Cowboy Show in Las Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo. Along with those special pieces created for The Russell, Rich also sells his work at The Great Western Show in Great Falls during Western Art Week.

South of Colorado.

Reflecting on his artistic journey and the fact that his works are now in the homes of collectors around the world, Charlson describes this second act through the creative process itself. “I come up with the design, sit down and start building it. Once you start, it’s an adventure.

And it might never have gone up if it hadn’t been for that hailstorm almost 40 years ago.

Makin Tracks


This article appears in our January 2024 issue.

Russell’s exhibition and sale will take place in March 2024 as part of the Western Art Week in Great Falls, Montana. For more information about Rich Charlson’s art, visit charliwoodart.com.

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