Since 1961, Great Falls has been Norma Ashby-Smith's stomping ground.

She's a legend in Great Falls.  I'm sure you remember her from her time as an anchor on KRTV, or from countless other organizations, events, and efforts she has helped create and promote.

But let's rewind to 1969 when the very first Russell Art Auction kicked off what would become the renowned Western Art Week.

So, picture this: the local Ad Club needed a new fundraiser after some changes in state administration in 1968 nixed their Cadillac Dinner giveaway.

Norma, being the go-getter she is, remembered this awesome auction she went to in Geraldine, Montana.

She snagged a cut glass candy dish for a steal and thought, "Why not bring this excitement to Great Falls?"

Norma got to thinking about a few famous folks who have called Great Falls home.

The one that came to mind was famed Western artist Charlie Russell, of course, and he is well-known even outside of Montana!

And what better way to honor him than with an art auction around his birthday (March 19th) benefiting the C.M. Russell Museum?

So, with her late husband's suggestion, Norma roped in Jack Raty, a seasoned auctioneer who'd never sold art but sure knew his way around a cattle auction.

Fast forward to March '69, and the Rainbow Hotel was buzzing with excitement as folks from all over Montana (and then some) gathered for the auction. It was a hit!

And thus, Western Art Week was born.

Today, Western Art Week is like a whole extravaganza, with talks, quickdraws, essay contests, educational symposiums, and more art shows than you can shake a paintbrush at.

But the Russell Art Auction still steals the show, drawing art lovers from every nook and cranny of the nation to our little slice of heaven – the Western Art Capital of the World – every March.

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Gallery Credit: Great Falls Montana Tourism

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