Meadowlark Gallery: The Artist Biographies

Olaf Carl Seltzer (1877-1957)

Olaf Carl Seltzer was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in either 1877 or 1881, and died in Great Falls, Montana, in 1957. He was an important traditional Russell-school western painter, illustrator, and miniaturist. When he was 12, Seltzer studied sketching at the Danish Art School and Polytechnic Institute in Copenhagen. When he was 14, he emigrated to Great Falls, Montana, with his mother and worked there briefly as a cowboy. He was hired as an apprentice machinist for the Great Northern Railroad, then as a locomotive repairman. In his spare time Seltzer made sketches in pen and ink. At 20, he began to paint in oil, encouraged by a Canadian patron. His style was similar to his neighbor, Charles Russell, who had encouraged him and who painted with him on trips. At 44, he became a full-time painter when he was laid off by the railroad. He was immediately successful as a Russell disciple, going to New York City in 1926 to complete some of Russell's commissions. In 1930, he was engaged by a wealthy patron, Dr. Phillip Cole, to paint a series of miniatures on Montana history. After 100 works painted under a magnifying glass, his sight weakened so that thereafter he could paint only in bright light. Nevertheless, he completed over 2,500 paintings. He is ranked as an important western painter today, in his lifetime Seltzer appeared colorless under the shadow of the personality of Charles Russell.

Olaf always said that his philosophy was that if somebody was going to make a dollar on his work they did not like his work. If someone ever bought a piece and then sold it, it was the last one over sold to them by Seltzer. Seltzer never sold to an art dealer.

View high resolution images of works by Olaf Carl Seltzer when available.