Tuesday, June 11, 2013
"To Take a Scalp" by Bob Scriver
These photos were kindly sent to me by Adam R. Brice. The bronze is part of his own collection.
I see that the piece has the "real" Scriver patina, which is a deep green with variations in it. We learned to patine like that by imitating the French Animaliers. In fact, Bob bought a Barye bronze of a big cat taking down a gazelle so we could study it. The animaliers and Rodin were the early developers of the art of bronze casting in Paris when the fashion moved away from Italian marble -- all those white statues.
I wasn't with Bob when he made this piece, but he talked about it. There was contention among the old timers about which one of them was the last to take a scalp. Both or maybe three claimed that as teenagers they accompanied war parties and took a scalp, but were so repelled by it that they never did it again. The problem with such boasts is that it puts the guy on the line between being a potent warrior and being a law-breaker who would be punished by whites or at least a savage. Bob tried to imagine what it would really be like and this piece resulted. He did have a few real scalps in his artifact collection, but was hazy (strategically) about where they came from.
Friday, March 15, 2013
“March in Montana”, one of the Great Falls auctions that hitchhikes on the major auction in celebration of Charlie Russell’s birthday, is “featuring” sculptures by Bob Scriver and Earle Heikka. There are points of similarity between the two men and also significant points of difference. Heikka and Scriver both had backgrounds in taxidermy at museum levels where dioramas are the goal. Both are local, Heikka born in Belt and Scriver born in Browning. Heikka (1910 - 1941) was older than Scriver and committed suicide while Scriver was in the service in Edmonton, before the latter began serious sculpture. They were not acquainted. Both men did Western genre subjects: pack trains, cowboys and Indians, and stagecoaches, but Scriver’s work included many other subjects including portraits and a small group of religious works. He's best compared to the French school of Beaux Arts sculptors who created many of our familiar monuments: men like Fraser, Procter, Saint Gaudens, and so on.
Heikka worked in a very difficult medium, “Marblex,”something like paper mache which cracked badly when it dried. It required much patience to master and didn’t receive or hold detail very well. As far as I know, Heikka didn’t cast them in bronze during his lifetime. His pieces were one-of-a-kind, hand-painted.
In contrast, Scriver worked in plastilene, was a master mold maker, and built his own foundry, the Bighorn Foundry, in order to have total control. The bronzes cast in those days were silicon bronze using the Roman block method and had a very specific patina meant to be like those of the Animaliers cast in Paris in the 19th century. They were numbered in small editions, certificates were issued, and sales were recorded in a master book that appears to have gone missing since the Montana Historical Society, who received Scriver’s estate, can’t seem to locate it. Possibly it was intercepted before the estate was moved.
In the early days Scriver cast in hydrocal, a very hard version of plaster, and he kept a key casting of each piece in case something happened to the mold. (Since metal shrinks when it is cast, molds made from previous bronzes will be slightly smaller.) It appears that one of the pieces in this auction is one of those key castings. If the mold was made from black tufy cold molding compound, it would leave the piece discolored like this. It's hard to know how to value something like this. We used to set the price of hydrocals as one-tenth the price of the bronze, but if it were the mold key, it would be worth far more as a production basic. It's not much to display and could easily be broken if struck or dropped. It ought to have been destroyed at Bob's death.
Lone Cowboy, 1880. Created in 1968, no edition numbers. This specific piece was a companion to the original “Lone Cowboy” which was Bob’s trademark for many years. It was also a “breakthrough” in a different way, the first of Bob’s work that was consciously designed. It was the piece Warren Baumgartner, a master watercolorist from NYC, helped with in order to teach Bob composition. Heikka never had the benefit of such lessons.
One of the most complex of these composed sculptures is “Real Meat”. Created in 1964 , numbered 8. Original certificate included. The phrase is the original Blackfeet name for buffalo. These animals are specific buffalo that Bob measured and studied at the Moiese National Bison Range. The men were modeled by members of the Kicking Woman family and the horses are taken from Bob’s own horses. This large piece is in a different scale, a different style, and a different composition from the Russell sculpture to which is it sometimes compared.
"The Hornaday group" is a famous remnant taxidermy group in the Smithsonian. Since it was showing signs of age and needed some refurbishment, this bronze was created for sale to finance that work. Inscribed "Special to Loran & Delores Perry" which means it was not numbered.
Other buffalo portraits include “Herd Bull” which is the study for the buffalo bull that once stood in the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife. This is #5 of 110. It claims to be cast by the Proctor family in the '70's. I know nothing about that. 110 is a large edition.
The “breakthrough into bigtime" notice came with the large rodeo series that developed out of the commission from the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association to do an heroic-sized portrait of Bill Linderman. The Calgary Stampede bought a complete set of these bronzes. These pieces have only recently begun to show up in auctions.
The most spectacular and graceful is “Paywindow,” the bucking horse on one foot. It is nearly balletic. This is numbered 17 and was cast in the Bighorn Foundry, Bob's own. Original certificate is with it.
"Not for Glory" is the pickup men, one taking off the rider and the other getting hold of the horse. This is copy #2, cast in the Bighorn Foundry, Bob's own. Original certificate included.
"Headin' for a Wreck" is the steer-wrestling event. Those in the know would see that the cowboy's timing is just enough off to make trouble. This is the #6 casting and was cast by Powell Bronze Foundry, which was run by Eddie Powell, Ace's oldest son.
Later there were smaller “cowboy” pieces. This one is old-timey and uses Bob’s longhorn steer, “Tex.” He called it "When Cutting Was Tough." #55 of 110. Arrowhead Bronze Foundry. This foundry used ceramic shell casting. The high numbers were common with Bob in the later years. There is no "law" -- not even business law -- that controls the number of castings in an edition. Severely limiting the number was a convention in the early days when molds lost detail in every casting. It was a gentleman's agreement that Bob came to despise as bad business practice since modern molds don't lose detail.
Bob liked to work in groups around a subject. The Lewis & Clark monument commissions for Great Falls and Fort Benton were financed by the sale of smaller castings, sometimes replicas and sometimes on the same theme.
"Captain Lewis & Our Dog Scannon" turned out to be misnamed. The dog's actual name was "Seaman." Arrowhead casting. The dog that posed for this Newfoundland dog was named "Windsor." This is casting # 26 of 150. The dog (and the slave York) actually belonged to Clark.
"Capt. Wm. Clark, Map Maker." #26 of 150. Arrowhead casting. Actually, he's surveying here and will record numbers from which maps can be constructed. Since this casting has the same number as the one just previous, they were probably sold together.
"Lewis, Clark & Sacajawea", #25 of 35, is a small version of the Fort Benton monument. Actually Pompey is in it as well. Created in 1974. The Certificate of Authenticity that comes with it is issued by the Lewis & Clark Memorial Committee.
This “set” is a series of “collectibles” on the theme of coffee, suggested by an entrepreneur.
A few other individual old-timey pieces might be commissioned or just be inspired by reading or conversation.
"Salute to the Buffalo Robe" is inscribed "Special to Loran & Delores Perry" so is not numbered. Created in 1995. Commissioned to celebrate the 150 anniversary of the establishment of Fort Benton and includes a certificate of authenticity from the Fort Benton Committee as well as being inset with a Fort Benton 150th anniversary medallion.
"1861 Mail (Pony Express)" Created in 1991. #7 of 100.
"Montana Trapper." #96/100 Created 1976. Arrowhead casting.
Of course, Scriver continued with the animal pieces. This one revisits the idea of two bull elks fighting over a cow, but uses a different composition.
"To the Victor" #54/75 Arrowhead casting. Late in life Scriver's human figures seemed distorted sometimes, but his animals always kept their anatomical accuracy. One could look at the high number sold of this piece as either damaging its value because it's not very scarce, or could see it as an indicator of popularity, which is always good for sales.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
This is a winter photo. I can tell because a saddle is stored by suspension from the rafters. The table on the left holds tracks of all the animals. The plan was to cast them in bronze and inset them into the floor, but it never got done. In front is a mountain sheep, Bob's favorite animal, and the white animal is a mountain goat. In between, obscured by the mountain sheep, is an antelope. All these animals were shot by Bob. The exception is the cougar at the right which showed up in someone's woodshed.
Here's Bob in later years in the backyard between the shop and the house. The monumental bronze was cast in the Bighorn Foundry which is along the east side of the yard. The foreman at the time was David Cree Medicine, son of Carl Cree Medicine who worked for Bob through the Sixties.
Bob Scriver and George Montgomery are looking at foot ware for Jesus who sits patiently at the left. George used his contacts with the Hollywood costumers to bring in some properly researched materials for reference. Over George's shoulder is a small version of the monument of Lewis & Clark in Great Falls. The "Peace Jesus" was never completed except as a maquette.
Before there was a "Peace Jesus", there was a commissioned portrait of Jesus on the Cross, rather small. Bob did it while his daughter was dying of cancer. The model was Maurice Chaillot, brother of his second wife, Jeanette. He was a brilliant man, a professor, quite a bit younger than his sisters. After Bob's daughter died, he thought of bringing back Maurice and his sister, Helene, in order to sculpt a Pieta, the image of Mary holding the dead body of her son. This piece is a result. For a long time he was afraid to cast it in bronze for fear of botching it somehow, but it turned out fine. You can see the familiarity of his relationship to this piece by the way he puts his arm around it, as though it was a person. Of course, it is a double portrait of two people he loved. As far as I know, no casting was ever sold to anyone.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Uploaded on Jul 22, 2010
Enjoy this newly re-discovered video of animal trainer Doug Seus and the original Bart the Bear during an exhibition in the early 1990s at Pine Butte Ranch in northwestern Montana. Video shot and provided by Lyle Gold. Edited by Kiffin Hope. Copyright 2010 The Vital Ground Foundation.
Because this video shows a tipi belonging to Bob Scriver and because the time frame is right, I think that this is when Bob made the sculpture of Bart the Bear. It may have been shot on the Flatiron Ranch, Bob’s ranch, which is slightly farther north along the east slope of the Rockies. I tried to contact Lyle Gold to confirm, but couldn’t find a phone number so far.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Today would have been Bob Scriver’s 98th birthday. There was never any expectation that he would live this long, but many thought his work might. I watch his sculpture revolve through the auctions that are the life of Western cowboy art now. The small later work is beginning to be joined by his earlier careful sculptures meant to be monuments in the Beau Arts mode. The people who bought them are dying now and their heirs are cashing them in. This means that prices have dropped.
I haven’t followed the Cowboy Artists of America, who were mostly painters anyway. But I tabbed Harry Jackson at AskArt.com and the two sculptors generally go to auction side-by-side, though Harry never produced the many smaller “collectibles” that Bob’s entrepreneurs cast and sold. His inheritors put a LOT of work on the market in a hurry. Some people, who can barely tell a cow from a horse, are not able to see differences between Harry and Bob. Certainly they were personally much alike and very fond of each other.
No significant critic of Western art as it existed in the last century has emerged. Those who are qualified are as old as the artists. They stick to the three R's: Russell, Remington and Rungius. Academics find the subject unworthy, except to attack as childish and just plain wrong.
The pendulum will swing the other way. I have no idea when. Probably not in time for a centennial of the birth of Bob Scriver.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
From the Great Falls Tribune, May 27, 2012
Old Fort Benton opens Bourgeois House, Starr Gallery
The Bourgeois House at the fort in Fort Benton houses the Starr Gallery. TRIBUNE PHOTO/LARRY BECKNER Fay Todd, left, talks about a Bob Scriver bronze sculpture with Jeffrey Alpizar in the Starr Gallery at the Bourgeois House in Fort Benton Saturday. TRIBUNE PHOTO/LARRY BECKNER
In late May 1855, Andrew Dawson, the American Fur Company's chief trader at Fort Benton, wrote in his daily log, "cloudy, rainy, disagreeable day."
On the next day Dawson wrote, "fort full of water."
The next, "another rainy day."
And then on May 26, exactly 157 years before the River and Plains Society dedicated the newest addition to the old Fort Benton museum complex, Dawson wrote, "more showers."
The assembled audience chuckled as River and Plains Society Board Member Randy Morger read from the old logs. Outside, a drizzling rain neatly echoed Dawson's observations from a century and a half ago.
Some things never change.
Inside too, little seemed to have changed from the fur trading days. Trade blankets and powder horns lined the shelves at the trade store. A buffalo head kept watch over the assembled audience, staring out from above a cracking fire in the adobe fireplace.
After the dignitaries had given their speeches, and rounds of heart-felt applause had been showered upon the many people who made the dedication possible, the audience was invited to step out into the rain, cross the inner courtyard and enter old fort's newest addition.
After more than 15 years of planning, preparation and finally construction, the Bourgeois House and the Starr Gallery of Western Art are at last completed. Saturday marked their grand opening.
Standing on the exact site from which the American Fur Company once operated a vast frontier trading empire, the Bourgeois House and Starr Gallery are certain to delight anyone with an interest in authentic western history and and appreciation for rare western art.
"Come on in and see what we have to offer," said River and Plains trustee Jack Lepley as he invited the crowd in.
The Bourgeois House is a faithful recreation of the office, living quarters and council room of the Bourgeois, the title given to the chief trader at each of the American Fur Company's trading posts. And contained within this important structural tribute to Montana's past is another, equally impressive treasure — the Starr Gallery of Western Art.
For its inaugural exhibit, the Starr Gallery is featuring 18 sculptures by famed Montana artist Bob Scriver, rare Karl Bodmer prints contributed by the Starr Foundation, and John Mix Stanley's original portrait of Alexander Culbertson, founder of Fort Benton in 1846.
"Authenticity, culture and history — what better place than Fort Benton to find that?" asked Pam Gosink from the Montana Office of Tourism. "Congratulations on a job well done."
Thursday, May 24, 2012
From the Great Falls Tribune, May 23, 2012
These are the bronzes that were held in Edmonton at the Royal Alberta Museum.
Historical addition, museum to open in Fort Benton
This small Scriver bronze entitled "No More Buffalo" is the namesake sculpture of a 53 piece series that will be displayed at the Starr Gallery of Western Art over the next several years. PHOTO COURTESY OF RIVER AND PLAINS SOCIETY
DEDICATION TO BE HELD SATURDAY
The Bourgeois House and the Starr Gallery of Western Art will be dedicated during a public ceremony in Fort Benton at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 26. Admission is free to the public, who also can visit all other Fort Benton museums and historic landmarks that day for free, all courtesy of the River and Plains Society, which oversees the fort's restoration.
Funding for the reconstruction of the Bourgeois House and the Starr Gallery was provided by the Montana Office of Tourism's Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program, Fay Todd and family and the Starr Foundation.
Fort Benton "saw more romance, tragedy and vigorous life than many a city a hundred times its size and ten times its age" wrote historian Hiram Chittenden in his 1903 book on the Missouri River steamboat era.
The fur trappers, Native Americans, river boats, buffalo hunters, gold miners and whiskey traders who made Fort Benton a center of commerce and culture in the Rocky Mountain West have long ago faded from living memory. But next Saturday, May 26, a new addition to the museum complex at old Fort Benton will be dedicated, faithfully restoring some of the sights and imagery of what was once the innermost port in the world.
The public is invited to attend opening ceremonies for the Bourgeois House, a historical re-creation of what served as the headquarters and living area for the American Fur Company's chief trader at the remote Montana Territory outpost.
"That's what the American Fur Company called the chief traders at all their forts — the Bourgeois," explained Sharalee Smith, director of the River and Plains Society Fort Restoration Committee.
Built from brick modeled on artifacts preserved from the original 1850s adobe fort, the Bourgeois House is the first structure to be added to the Old Fort's re-creation in 10 years.
"When we first started out back in 1995, we built the trade store and then the warehouse and the blacksmith's/carpenter's shop," said Smith.
The old fort also includes the original 1847 blockhouse, the oldest building in Montana still on its original foundation. According to Smith, the original two-story Bourgeois House was designed to impress upon its visitors the wealth and prestige of the American Fur Company.
"The far left of the building's ground floor was the Bourgeois' office," she said. "The remaining two-thirds of the ground floor was a huge room they called 'The Council Room.' When Indian chiefs and other important people would visit, that's where the American Fur Company officials would entertain them.
"Upstairs, going up the fancy porch, was the Bourgeois' living quarters. Then the other rooms going down the other two-thirds of the upper story were apartments for the clerks. The educated guys got to live in nice little apartments, each with their own doorway."
While the re-creations of the Bourgeois' office and living quarters are impressive in their own right, the Bourgeois House is far more than simply an interpretive center for a bygone fur trading post. Also on the main floor of the Bourgeois House is the new Starr Gallery of Western Art. The inaugural exhibition for this important addition to Montana's cultural legacy is called "The Land, The People, The Artists' Vision."
Headlining the new exhibit are 18 statues by Bob Scriver. Cast during a 20-year period beginning in 1959, the "No More Buffalo" series represents some of the Montana sculptor's most important work.
According to a 1998 interview with Scriver by the Los Angeles Times, in 1959 the chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council asked Scriver to create 12 statues illustrating tribal culture. The challenge prompted him to fashion 53 statues in bronze, plaster or fiberglass depicting 1,200 years of Blackfeet history. The Provincial Museum for Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, stored the works for more than a decade, and they have rarely been displayed publicly.
"The whole collection was returned to the Montana State Historical Society last fall," explained Smith. "Some of these statues are huge and weigh well over 700 pounds."
Over the coming years, the Starr Gallery intends to rotate through the remaining pieces of the "No More Buffalo" collection, eventually displaying all 53 works in the series.
Also on display starting Saturday will be a collection of rare Karl Bodmer prints detailing Montana's scenery and Indian cultures of the 1830s, and an original portrait of Fort Benton's founder, Alexander Culbertson, likely painted in the 1870s by western artist John Mix Stanley.
"The Stanley portrait is the only original work by that famous western painter known to exist in Montana," said John G. Lepley, executive director and curator for the River and Plains Society. "And the prints from Swiss painter Bodmer's travels with Prince Maximilian to the interior of North America still stand today as the most accurate and detailed pictures of Native American life during that era."