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 maybe it is, but there is a lot to be said for Robert Frost's insight into the real 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.