C.M. Russell expert, Western Art Week supporter Ginger Renner dies
Ginger Renner, an art collector and gallery owner who became one of the nation's top experts on the late "Cowboy Artist" Charlie Russell, died early Sunday at a local hospital near her home in Paradise Valley, Ariz., after a fall. She was 89.
"It's just a tremendous loss to the (C.M. Russell) Museum and the art world," said Darrell Beauchamp, executive director of the C.M. Russell Museum. "As a resource, Ginger was invaluable. We used her every chance we got."
Beauchamp said Renner was not able to attend last week's Russell Museum events because of failing health.
"She wanted to be there more than anything," said her daughter, Amanda Stine. "It was hugely important to her."
In the last few years of her life, she talked with the Tribune about her interest in and contributions to western art events.
One of the editors of "Charles M. Russell, A Catalogue Raisonné," the definitive listing of Russell's work, Renner had been a backer of the Russell Art Auction since its beginning in 1969 and authenticated much of Russell's artwork.
That became a problem in 2005 when she spotted a fake Russell in the auction. To make matters worse, it was valued at between $90,000 and $110,000 and owned by an old friend, Kalispell art collector Paul Masa.
Renner publicly announced that the painting was a forgery, then privately persuaded Masa to pull the painting from the auction. "Paul and I burned it in Van Kirke Nelson's fireplace," she said.
But she also wrote Masa a check to cover his loss, she later admitted.
Born May 21, 1921, in Fullerton, La., Renner spent about 18 months as society editor of the Silver City (N.M.) Enterprise, a weekly newspaper back in 1939-40.
But she'd always had an eye for art, and in 1963 she got a chance to run the Desert Southwest Art Gallery in Palm Desert, Calif. It was there she met Masa.
"He tried to sell me some of this bad art he was carrying around in his truck," Renner said. "I told him his art was pretty cruddy, but if he wanted to hang around until things slowed down in the afternoon, I'd show him some good art."
In 1965, she bought an art gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyo. "So I was able to have a summer operation in Jackson Hole and a winter operation in Palm Desert," she said.
In 1973, she met and married Fred Renner, then the nation's leading expert on Russell.
"I was his third wife, and he was my third husband," she said. "We always said the third time's the charm — and it was true. We never got tired of each other."
Ginger said she was determined not to intrude on her husband's area of expertise, but she borrowed a book of personal reminisces about Russell to read one day while her husband watched a football game on television.
"It was a big book — it must have weighed 20 pounds — but I read it cover to cover," she said. "When I was done, I started over and read it all over again. When I was finished for the second time, I was absolutely hooked on Charlie."
Over the next 15 years, she learned a lot about Russell, living with a bunch of his art. For nearly a year, the Renners lived with a major bronze by Russell entitled "Meat for Wild Men."
When her husband died in March 1987, Renner was ready to take on his duties.
Two days after his death, Ginger Renner got a call from Charlie Russell's son Jack, who wanted to know where Fred would be buried.
When she said she didn't know, Jack Russell said he had a plot right across the stone from his father that he would be happy to donate because he had lived for so long in southern California that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scatted in the Pacific Ocean.
"It was the most wonderful, generous, compassionate gift I ever received because it would have meant so much to Fred," she said. "I broke into tears, and then I wrote him a heartfelt letter of thanks for such an incredible gift."
She continued holding court at the Russell Art Auction through the 2009 bidding, which she stood up and interrupted to tell the buyers of a Russell watercolor — they'd just won it on a $100,000 bid — that it was a very rare piece and a great bargain.
Two of her children survive her: Dan Neveau, a business analyst and developer in Encinitas, Calif., and Amanda Stine, a chef in Sedona, Ariz.
She is also survived by five grandchildren.
Beauchamp said the Russell Museum is planning some sort of memorial or tribute for Renner, a long-time board member, but is waiting to talk to her family.
"We will do everything we can to honor her," Beauchamp said.
— Eric Newhouse, retired projects editor for the Great Falls Tribune, interviewed Ginger Renner in 2009.