Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Roman Bronze Works
Buffalo Book End, 1921
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
Russell’s sculpture of a buffalo rubbing itself against a rock was probably based on firsthand observation. George Bird Grinnell, an acquaintance of the artist’s and the editor of Forest and Stream, noted at that time: “It was in the spring, when his coat was being shed, that the buffalo, odd-looking at any time, presented his most grotesque appearance. The matted hair and wool of the shoulders and sides began to peel off in great sheets, and these sheets, clinging to the skin and flapping in the wind, gave the animal the appearance of being clad in rags.” Grinnell added that the shedding process caused a horrible itch, and the animals would desperately rub themselves against trees or rocks for relief. “Sometimes a solitary boulder, five or six feet high, may be seen on the bare prairie, the ground immediately around it being worn down two or three feet below the level of the surrounding earth.” Russell modeled the composition for this bronze along with several other subjects in 1921, and it was later copyrighted by Nancy Russell under the title, Buffalo Book End. The sculpture is sometimes known as Buffalo Rubbing Rock, but it seems not to have been exhibited under that title until some years after Nancy Russell’s death. From the beginning the sculpture was intended to serve as a bookend, so Russell skillfully modeled the buffalo and rock with a flat back side to serve that purpose. When the bronze was first exhibited, it was listed at $175 for one or $350 for a pair. The price was eventually increased to $500 a pair by 1928, which seems like a steep price when compared to other small sculptures of the period. The sales records for this work are nearly nonexistent, and the inventory of Nancy Russell’s estate at the time of her death listed five individual casts of the work. It is estimated that sixteen to eighteen casts (eight to nine pairs) were made in Charles and Nancy Russell’s lifetimes.