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According to Rick Stewart, “Nancy Russell wrote several descriptions of the subject of this small bronze. An undated one typed on the reverse of a sheet of her husband’s Great Falls stationery reads: ‘When the Indian prays or smokes in the act of prayer, he fills his pipe, holds it to the sun or to the heavens, to the earth, then to the four points of the wind; then draws three long draws from the pipe and passes it to whoever or whatever he’s smoking with. In this case, it is a buffalo skull. He is invoking the return of the buffalo and the nearest thing he has to commune with is the skull of his dear friend.’ In the sculpture, the Indian gazes skyward, lifting the bowl end of the pipe to the Creator Sun. Another of Mrs. Russell’s descriptions notes: ‘The Indian believes all animals live again in another world and as the buffalo meant ‘life,’ to them; his robe house and clothed them, his flesh was food, so when smoking, the Indian often prayed to the buffalo, holding his pipe to the skull and asking that his kind might always be plenty.’

“The sculpture seems to have carried a slightly more poignant meaning for the artist himself. He reportedly sold casts to two of his hunting friends, Claude ‘Cap’ Lanstrum and James ‘Jim’ Hobbins, shortly after he received the bronzes from New York. As Lanstrum later related it, Russell told them he had derived the subject from his time in 1887 with Alberta’s Blood Indians, whose elders believed ‘that some day the buffalo would return from the underground where they had taken refuge, but only after the white man had been driven out of the Indian country. This wonderful day was due most any time but the Medicine Man was praying to hasten that event.’ During Russell’s initial years in Montana the buffalo had disappeared from the Northern Plains, and his sympathy for the plight of the native tribes who had depended on the animal for their livelihood was well known to all his friends.”

“In his 1949 inventory of the Russell bronzes, Homer Britzman maintained that a total of eighteen casts had been made of the subject. If this is accurate, it seems probable that Zoppo cast as many as twelve copies in 1916, per the original agreement. That would leave only six casts to be assigned to both Roman Bronze Works and California Art Bronze Foundry; currently, at least three Roman Bronze Works casts and only two bearing the mark of the California Art Bronze Foundry are known.”

Rick Stewart, Charles M. Russell Sculptor (Fort Worth, TX: Amon Carter Museum, 1994), example illustrated

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