Exploring the Artistic Legacy of Russell Chatham: Unveiling the Enigmatic Dalva, by Lucas Laroche

Dalva by Russell Chatham

Russell Chatham (1939-2019), who was originally from California is, later from 1971 to 2011 considered a Montana-based artist and author who left an indelible tapestry of fantastic artwork that touched the art world, mainly because of his use of lithographs and captivating landscapes. The artwork “Dalva,” made by Chatham in 1987, was bequeathed by Seymour Lawrence in 1993 to be officially part of the Seymour Lawrence Collection of American Art at The University of Mississippi Museum.

“Dalva” is an artwork that always interests our audience because of this woman’s intimate yet commanding presence depicted in an acrylic painting technique on a rag board. It is still difficult to determine where she is from, according to Chatham’s perspective. However, his friend, Jim Harrison (1937–2016), used the same character, “Dalva,” in his book that includes this artwork. The book cover for “Dalva,” 1988, mentioned that she is a part-Sioux woman, which means that she is from an indigenous Native American tribe. The Sioux tribes inhabited the states of Minnesota, South and North Dakota, and Nebraska. In addition, the Sioux also inhabited the Great Plains region of Montana, which is the same state where Russell Chatham is formerly based, which can give us an idea that she might be from Montana. The composition is also colored brown on the background, which also holds significance for indigenous cultures, symbolizing the earth element, the mountains, indigenous beliefs associated with nature, and tribes that painted their faces and bodies with mud, which refers to the brown color.

The book also mentions that she is in her mid-40s and has lived a rich and varied life. She is depicted with a three quarters profile portrait pose. This sense of gazing toward her right gives a more outlook of great dark hair, and the depiction of her left earring contrasts the artwork’s hue. Because this artwork is also associated with the book cover for James Harrison’s novel “Dalva” in 1988, this collaboration between the two artists adds layers of depth to the artwork, allowing the viewer to ponder the connections between visual and literary art forms. Chatham is an interesting character that we value a lot at The University of Mississippi Museum because of his background as a mostly self-taught artist. His lineage as the grandson of renowned landscape painter Gottardo Piazzoni gives him an important appreciation for the natural world. The vibrant hues and fluid brushstrokes of “Dalva” add vitality and dynamism to the composition, which probably comes from his experiences as a sportsman and outdoorsman.

Chatham had a prestigious audience that included celebrity friends like Jack Nicholson, who he went fishing with, and other celebrities like Walter Cronkite, Jessica Lange, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford, Warren Beatty, and Tom Brokaw. Because of the creation of the Chatham Fine Art Gallery by famed Cape Cod artist Marguerite Falconer in 1968, as well as Chatham’s establishment of Clark City Press in 1989, the California-raised artist solidified his reputation as a multifaceted artist and author.

As we unravel the enigmatic allure of “Dalva,” we invite you to immerse yourself in the exhibition, “The Seymour Lawrence Collection of American Art,” to see Russell Chatham’s artwork in person at the University of Mississippi Museum. The museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM Monday-Friday and from 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturday.