Watch old Westerns at Fort Worth’s Sid Richardson Museum

Posted Thursday, May. 15, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Before there were cowboy movies, there were cowboy paintings.

The Sid Richardson Museum hopes to show that artists like Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, whose work indelibly shaped our views of the Old West, also had a profound impact on the Hollywood Western with a free summer film series beginning Friday at the cozy downtown museum.

Director John Ford’s classic She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, starring John Wayne, kicks off the four-film, monthly series. Two other Ford movies, Wagon Master (June 20) and The Searchers (July 11) follow, before the series concludes with Howard Hawks’ Red River (Aug. 15).

“It would have been easy to just stick with John Ford, but we wanted a little variety,” explained Leslie Thompson, the museum’s adult audience manager, who will be introducing the films.

Thompson says that these classic Westerns can help museum visitors better appreciate the Sid Richardson collection, which is dominated by Remingtons and Russells.

“There are a lot of connections that can be made. John Ford, specifically, was very familiar with Remington and Russell, and would often instruct his cinematographer to study their paintings to capture that color and movement,” she said.

The influences of these two Western artists (and others) is only part of the story of the complex relationship between these paintings and the American motion picture industry, which began to develop in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Remington and Russell were in their prime.

Remington, for example, was almost certainly aware of Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies from the late 1870s and possibly used them as guides for his paintings of galloping horses. And when Hollywood turned to Remington and Russell for inspiration, it did so in both a direct and indirect fashion.

“I think the influence was more general with Russell than with Remington,” said Sarah Burt, Chan and Clara Ferguson chief curator at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Mont.

“There’s a cinematic vision and wide-screen sensibility already in Russell,” she said. “I think one of his great accomplishments as an artist is his ability to show action.”

For Remington, the influences were often literal, such as when Ford would seem to replicate the composition of some painting by that artist in a frame of film. There is less of that sort of thing with Russell, but his influence on creating the tone and feel of the Wild West is apparent.

Remington died in 1909, when the movies were still in their infancy. But Russell, who lived until 1926, was able to make a personal impression on some of the early stars and directors of silent Westerns.

“Russell spent every winter between 1920 and 1926 in Southern California,” Burt said about the artist, who spent most of his life in Montana. “And he knew the early stars like Will Rogers, William S. Hart, Tom Mix and Harry Carey Sr.”

Reportedly, Russell hung out with these Hollywood luminaries, including many who owned his paintings (Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, among them), and Burt believes they also asked him for advice about staging their Western adventures.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they would have said, ‘Hey, Charlie, is this stirrup right, is this cinch right?’ and so on,” Burt said.

Just as the movies seemed to love Charlie Russell, he seemed to love them right back. As evidence, Burt quoted a letter Russell wrote from California in 1920.

“Suddenly from a grove of live oaks, there bursts a band of riders,” he wrote to a friend back in Great Falls. “The leader of this band is Bill Hart, Tom Mix or some other movie gunman, too fanciful to be real. But to an old romantic loving boy like me, it’s the best thing I have seen in California.”

Seating is limited for the free screenings, each of which begins at 6:30 p.m. Refreshments are provided, and those wishing to attend should visit the museum’s website at www.sidrichardsonmuseum.org to make reservations. The museum is at 309 Main St. in downtown Fort Worth.

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