JERRY GOROSKI is the consultant appraisar to whom I refer inquiries about Scriver bronzes. He is formally trained and certified to do assessments and knew Bob Scriver as well as working for the CM Russell Museum in Great Falls. His gallery is called "Open Range Art."


Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Sheepherder "Hay-soos"

Bob Scriver always thought of sculptures in "sets." One set was going to be American characters, which would include the portrait of Ace, Charlie Russell, the Sheriff, Bandito, Tintype, and so on. One figure of that "set" was a sheepherder, a much more sympathetic and appealing one than the characters who occasionally broke into our cabin while they let their sheep eat our clover and dump little turds full of biting flies that stayed the rest of the summer.

This sheepherder statue was one of my favorites, partly because of the dog and partly because sittiing in a high place and looking a long ways is so characteristic of this part of the world. In fact, when the obsessive commotion over the giant statue of Jesus -- meant to signify peace but strewing nothing but belligerence, competition, and missing funds -- was over, I suggested that this statue was much better than any overweening and idolatrous monster.

If it were up to me, I would cast this sheepherder in heroic size (life-size plus one-fifth, which looks life-size when cast), put it up at the top of a hill, and let people who wished peace approach with a stone in their hand to add to a cairn, an ancient tradition that appears in many cultures, including those of the Basque sheepherders. It's the cairn that should be huge, not the statue.

Of course, in this case, the sheepherder named Jesus would be pronounced "Hay-soos."

When I suggested this to Rex and Iola Brennemen, long-time friends and art collectors of Bob's, they said they'd have to think about that for a while. They own a casting of this piece.

Margaret Scriver "To See Eternity"

Bob Scriver’s daughter, Margaret, died of cancer at age thirty. Because her conception forced his first marriage and because he loved the actual fact of her existence as a smart, responsive, and loving little daughter -- followed by a kind of loss as the marriage failed -- he had intense emotions surrounding her death. These he resolved in a portrait bust done at the hospital.

Her hair had been cut short for convenience in the hospital and she asked for it to be restored in the portrait. Bob made it blowing in the wind and spoke of her as his “prairie daughter,” which became the working title. Only later did we speak of that wind as death, a cold wind indeed, and then the title became “To See Eternity.”

This bust represents a breakthrough into a set of busts totally unlike Bob’s more familiar cowboys, Indians, and wildlife pieces, but not entirely unprecedented. Earlier he had done a bust of Arlene Lightfield, called simply “Arlene.”

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel

The Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel was a phrase I just made up for purposes of kidding around, but now I find that it is -- and maybe always was -- a real phenomenon: a connected ring of artists, dealers, and curators who try to control the price and nature of Western art. I’m not surprised. People tell me that in Santa Fe they walk down the sidewalk almost crowded into the street by the plethora of eager cowboy art galleries, most of them crammed with work that looks pretty much alike. Art is like rodeo -- a way for a hopeful to try to make enough bucks to save the ranch. Hard to blame them for that.

The Cowboy Artists of America is definitely acting like a cartel. (Dictionary: “An association of businesses aiming at monopolistic control of the market.”) For two years they have been engaged in sniping at, a database website that lists American and some Canadian artists, supplying biographies, bibliographies, galleries, and so on. The registrar is a highly art-educated woman who works from a home office. Thousands of artists are listed, most of them historical. Also supplied are essays on important groups of artists, explaining who they were and why they mattered.

One of the most popular essays had been the one on the Cowboy Artists of America, originally an exuberant group of artist friends, inspired by helping on a ranch, that developed an association. The group was taken in hand by Dean Krakel, then creating the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, and quickly became a spectacular success. The idea was that they would show all together at the Hall of Fame, attracting high class customers and patrons, then the Hall would award purchase prizes and thereby develop a fine collection while making the CAA artists famous and certified.

Bob Scriver was an early member as were Harry Jackson and Ned Jacob, but the latter two quickly pulled back out. The three had dominated the prizes. Jostling increased and CAA left the Hall. Krakel, always quick on his feet, organized the National Association of Western Artists, starting with all the CAA prize winners. (Not all the original CAA artists were that great as artists -- they were just great friends.)

What everyone who bought art wanted to know was which paintings and bronzes were good, in the sense of good investments? Many of the customers were capitalists -- that is, they managed large amounts of money, moving it around to places it would create profit. You can tell them to buy with their hearts all you want -- since their checkbooks are chained to their hearts for security purposes, they still want to know if the value will remain or increase so they can keep loving it.

The next step was the Great Falls Ad Club’s 1968 invention of the annual Charlie Russell Auction to benefit the CMR Museum. Aside from the benefit to the museum, the auction bloomed, then exploded into a major social event, a festival. Other auctions sprang up both in GF and in other cities.

After thirty-seven years enough of the original CAA artists and collectors had aged enough to die, giving rise to estate auctions. Now even the big auction houses like Christie’s were taking notice. Western art increased in value by leaps and bounds, because it was a portable form of storing wealth -- almost as good as gold or diamonds. No taxes, as required on real estate.

The second tier of CAA members had been east coast illustrators left adrift by the death of the magazine story-and-illustration combos that used to fill Redbook, Colliers, and the women’s magazines. These people were highly trained, disciplined, business-savvy but not cowboys, though some were Westerners. Moving to the SW, they built atmospheric studios and were soon busy looking leathery and grizzled.

Then there was a shifting third-tier of ambitious younger men. Not very worldly but VERY ambitious. Their fortunes went up and down, which was apparent to those who tracked auction prices. Bob Scriver despised auctions and did his best to hold his work out of them, knowing that they were sometimes highly manipulated. But the capitalist buyers used auction results like stock market indicators. supplied those auction results, along with images so a person could tell what sold. They are the same images that appear in online catalogues, since so many galleries and auctions have been putting the works online to attract email and telephone buyers who can’t get to the actual location. (One man told me his practice is to go to see the actual art ahead of time, but then always to bid from his car phone in the parking lot, so people can’t tell what he’s up to! He buys antique guns that way, too.)

In 2003 one of the third-tier artist’s wives -- perhaps prompted by slowing sales -- decided to attack the messenger: She felt her husband’s work was being erroneously reported and therefore damaging sales. She was asked to make the corrections, but refused, saying, “ You’re making money on reporting this stuff -- YOU find out what the right sales figures are!” So AskArt simply deleted the artist from the database.

Pretty soon that artist became the CAA president and attacked AskArt on behalf of the whole organization, claiming that there was something illegitimate about them posting an essay about CAA, though it was exactly the sort of thing one would find in an art magazine. (I downloaded it and have it around here. It was no different than the articles on California art or flag paintings or the “Trashcan school.”

CAA demanded that the photos of works be removed, as AskArt didn’t have permission to use them and the photos were copyrighted. They accused AskArt of “trademark infringement and unfair competition” and “infringing the copyrights of CAA’s members and CAA itself by providing high quality reproductions of its members’ works without permission.”

So AskArt took off the website all the CAA connected material: keywords, individual artists (unless deceased or requesting to be kept), images, and so on. There were about two dozen artists, a very small percentage of the total database. Though CAA fills the entire mental screen of the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel, the people back east still have only heard of Russell and Remington.

Other database websites that monitor auction results exist, but I haven’t looked at them. Frankly I never look at the auction results on AskArt either, not even for Bob Scriver. In Bob’s case, the bronzes that circulate constantly through the auction houses were commissioned by speculators who bought the right to reproduce and had huge editions (a hundred castings) made by small town ceramic shell casters with indifferent patinas. The prices of them are not going up, though they fluctuate a little.

Evidently the “masterpiece” bronzes (the big rodeo pieces, the major Blackfeet pieces like “Transition” or “No More Buffalo” that Bob cast in our own Bighorn Foundry) are not coming to the market, or if they are, they’re moving through galleries and individuals. There is another set of bronzes, mostly the religious pieces and other portraits Bob made for himself, that are one-of-a-kind and therefore priceless. They are at the Montana Historical Society. The several monuments, of course, stay where they are.

A high proportion of Bob’s work (a total of a thousand sculptures) was never cowboys or Indians, but wildlife. I’ve seen little of it go through the auctions. The funniest phenomenon has been the tourist trinkets Bob made when he was first starting out -- mass-produced plasters that originally sold for $4.95 -- that are now showing up on eBay for less than a hundred dollars. Some people are buying them, casting them in bronze, and thinking they have Scriver bronzes. It SAYS that right on them!

Art must be valued according to its quality, but if people are not educated to recognize quality and cannot be persuaded to buy art because they love it -- good or bad -- then they can expect disappointments. Repeating a formula over and over, depending on secrecy and bluff prices, and trying to threaten anyone who counsels the buying public are great ways to shoot oneself in the foot.

You’d think cowboy artists would know better.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Scriver Religious Sculptures

The four of us dressed up and went out to dinner to celebrate the completion of the Pieta. L. to R.: Mary Scriver, Bob Scriver, Helene DeVicq, Maurice Chaillot.

This bust of Jesus was a study for the much smaller Crucifix.

Bob Scriver ended up doing religious sculptures in a roundabout way. One could say that the first Christian statue he did was a cement version of the Virgin Mary for St. Anne Catholic Church’s graveyard in Heart Butte in the Fifties. But it may have only been a repair. He repaired one of John Clarke’s big cement goats as well.

In the mid-Sixties a couple named Walters, quite wealthy, came on vacation to the Big Hotel in East Glacier and visited the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife. They liked the sculpture and ordered several bronzes. Then Mrs. Walters said that she would very much like to have a portrait of her husband, Robert, a fine polo player. She wanted him portrayed on his horse so we would have to go to their ranch in Santa Barbara. In the spring of 1967 we did that.

On the way, driving our faithful little red van, we stopped in Santa Rosa to see Bob’s second wife’s sister, Helene and her family. The second wife’s brother, Maurice, had just come to visit. When we went on, Bob remarked that he’d make an excellent model if a person wanted to portray Jesus Christ, and then we had a good laugh. But Mrs. Walter’s next request was for a “Corpus” of Jesus on the cross, except it wouldn’t quite be a Corpus because he wouldn’t be dead yet. She wanted the moment when Jesus asked, “Father, Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?”

Maurice agreed to come and model that summer. On the way home we visited Bob’s daughter, Margaret, and discovered that she had cancer. Maurice is a Catholic and so was Margaret -- somehow over the months the Crucifix became conflated with Margaret’s suffering. When she died, Bob decided to continue with the Pieta with Maurice modeling along with his sister Helene as Mary. There was more than fifteen year’s difference in their ages.

Bob was not much of a Christian. His parents had attended the Presbyterian Church early in the twentieth century when Reverend James Gold, the Scottish missionary who was the father of Doug Gold, was there, but it was a very small congregation, almost a “house church,” since Rev. Gold’s ministry was mostly one of visiting and support to the Blackfeet. Bob had only the most surface and popular understanding of Christian doctrine. He never attended the little Methodist church, though I did, even singing in the choir in the Sixties. He did pay for several stained glass windows in the names of his brother and parents. His brother and mother were buried from that church but his father had a Masonic funeral in the old Masonic hall, and Bob himself was buried from the library of Browning High School with a Catholic priest and a Blackfeet Bundle Keeper presiding. It was not a mass.

We did research into practical matters for this Crucifix and Pieta. What clothes of the times were like, whether a dead person would show veins, and where the nails should go (hands or wrists) and so on. Maurice, educated by Jesuits, knew what it was all about theologically.

Bob divorced me in 1970 and in 1973 I returned to Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. In 1978 I began to prepare for the Unitarian Universalist ministry at the University of Chicago, earning an MA in Religious Studies and an M. Div. as a professional degree. In 1982 I returned to Montana to ride “circuit” among four small fellowships. While I was in seminary, I wrote a sort of early version of a “blog” -- one single-spaced typed page a week -- which I xeroxed and mailed to friends and family. Some of them were sending me money and I felt obligated to keep them informed. I always sent a copy to Bob Scriver. He never responded directly, but the evidence is that he read them. I always wondered how much they had to do with the next step.

The next Christian image was really the idea of an old man who wanted a peace monument with a huge statue of Jesus on top, big enough for a person to walk into the head and look out the eyes. Bob became obsessed with this and conflated it with his need for a more permanent museum off the reservation. The project persisted for years but finally fell of its own weight. Carroll College, somewhere in there, asked Bob to design a statue to be called “Jesus the Teacher” but the idea Bob offered was so silly that that was abandoned as well. It was Jesus in a very pleated gown holding up one finger. One can imagine what a student body would do with that, even nice Catholic students at Carroll!

While all this was going on, Bob’s “real” religion was quietly continuing: Bundle Opening. The first Bundle was transferred to the two of us in 1970 and he rejoiced in the felt unity with the old people of the tribe. But they were so old that they soon began to drop away, and anyway the young fierce post-colonial warriors attacked Bob and tried to suppress him the same way Indian agents tried to suppress those old people. It was ironic. Almost secretly, Bob went on with his smudging and bundle-opening with a few close friends. To some extent, I have, too.

He made two large round sculptures of Blackfeet ceremonies. One is the “Opening of the Medicine Pipe Bundle” which consists of portraits of all the old people in whose circle we sat. The other is the women doing the “beaver dance” from the Beaver Bundle, but the people are generic. There are also a number of sculptures illustrating Blackfeet mythology. Most of these pieces have never been on the market and therefore remain nearly unknown.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Scriver Pieta

"Pieta" is a category like "Nativity" or "Passion" (the Crucifixion) in which a religiously defined moment -- in this case the dead Jesus taken down from the cross and lying in the arms of Mary -- is portrayed. Many artists have addressed this theme over the centuries, in many styles and for many reasons. This "Pieta" was made by Bob Scriver after the death of his grown daughter, Margaret, who died of cancer in May 1968. It was created that next summer.

So far as I know, no copies of this piece have ever been sold. I have no measurements but Bob always worked to scale, often to a scale of one to five, so I would guess it is a little over a foot wide and maybe a foot tall. The only copy I know of is at the Montana Historical Society.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Sculpture Review Summer, '05
“The National Sculpture Society is the oldest organization of professional sculptors in the United States. It is master sculptors and architects like Daniel Chester French, Augustus St. Gaudens, Richard Morris Hunt, and Stanford White who founded the NSS in 1893 and have comprised its active membership since. Current membership continues to contribute to the great public sculpture in this nation, as well as being represented in museum, corporate, and private collections around the world.”
“The first sculpture exhibition in the United States was staged by NSS in 1895. Today, an exhibition schedule in the Park Avenue Atrium in New York, NY provides a venue for the public to view some of the best contemporary figurative sculpture in the country. The Park Avenue Atrium is a permanent showcase for exhibitions by the Society.”

Long before there was Cowboy Artists of America, there was the National Sculpture Society. When Malvina Hoffman and Joy Buba proposed Bob Scriver for membership in the Society in the Sixties, this was probably his highest moment -- for these were sculptors and these were the very sculptors he admired most.

Not cowboy or Indian sculptors, these were nevertheless the first to respond to the notion of the American West as it formed. Today there are cowboy, Indian and wildlife sculptors (both in identity and subject matter) among the membership. The only restriction is excellence. Oh, and you have to be able to figure out what the piece is. Bronzes might be embellished, distorted, augmented, experimental or not even in bronze, but the sculpture should be figurative to some degree.

Let's take a look at the Summer '05 issue of "Sculpture Review," a smashing, gorgeous, always unexpected, thought-provoking magazine. My favorite. Lately it has been organized around themes, which is a brilliant idea because it brings forward work I never heard of, never could have imagined, had no idea existed. This issue is an excellent example. The theme is "humor, satire and caricature.

If you thought Tonto and the Lone Ranger fist-fighting in heaven was funny, take a look at these two mismatched ladies on the cover in their naked alabaster asymmetry. One is huge, bulbous, grinning. The other, the more aggressive, is ancient, suffering a bad case of osteoporosis, her hair in a knot. She tries mightily to sock her opponent, while the massive one simply holds her away. "Battle Eternal" by Henry Clews.

With only a little forcing, you could find parallels between Henry Clews (1876-1937) and Charlie Russell (1864-1926). They both left prosperous families in search of their own worlds, they both married dedicated and supportive wives, they both became discouraged with society, and they both had sides both sweet and devilish. But the Clews did not live in a log cabin: they rebuilt a chateau at La Napoule between two Saracen towers near Cannes.

At first Clews was an admirer of Rodin, much influenced, but in later years he developed a strange, semi-Oriental style that to me suggests Jabba the Hutt. He could and did make tender and romantic portraits, but then could indulge in "biting satire" against "catacombs of unbelief, artificial pleasure, false happiness, machine idolatry, and suffocating idolatry." One doesn't know whether to laugh or to shudder.

Far more comfortable, even pleasurable, caricatures are by Elie Nadelman (1882 - 1946) who has a New Yorker cover sensibility. Faces taper to pointed noses, legs taper to pointed feet, ladies have ample poitrines. There is another category, small glazed potteries of gesturing blobby ladies with bumpy pets (poodles, probably). I have never heard of another sculptor who created busts in plaster, then plated them electrically as though they were baby shoes!

A series of small portrait busts by Daumier (1808-1879) are laugh-out-loud exaggerations of the features the subjects undoubtedly would least like to have pointed out. Strange noses, twisted mouths, ridiculous expressions, all stuffed into the tops of 19th century collars and bows. These are known politicians. How one longs for portraits of some of today's "Celebrities!"

Then, just as one is thinking that such lively art is a far cry from those Greek statues we usually see around Important Places, here is an article on "Caricature and the Grotesque in Helenistic Sculpture." That beautiful marble boy pulling a thorn from his foot is countered by a twisted little shepherd in exactly the same pose -- but he's only achieved terra cotta.

This magazine is meant for artists more than for customers, so the advertising is mostly for sculpture supplies and services. Still, sculptures illustrate the ads. I'm a little discouraged to see that ads for Western McEstates, usually featured in slick cowboy "lifestyle" magazines, have penetrated even to this market.

This is the only magazine that I know of that seriously discusses sculpture from several points of view: bios of the artists, the impact of the cultural context, influences of friendship, the materials, the methods, the achievements and the "so-what?" step -- why does this work count? What does it do to the viewer?

Usually you can find this magazine in one of the better bookstore newsstands or even in a library that hasn't been flayed to the bone in order to buy computers.

If you do find yourself in this sort of library, refer to the URL's at the top of the page and there will be plenty to contemplate anyway. This time when I looked, I came upon a portrait bust by Adrienne Alison of "Fundator Johannes Strachan (1778-1867)," that is, Bishop Strachan, founder of a girls' school in Toronto and looking entirely capable of keeping girls in line. Strachan is my maiden name. Every time I work on the family genealogy, he pops up, but I've never seen what he looks like before! I think my father had a nose like his.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Bob Scriver and a hand-painted version of "Lone Cowboy" -- a portrait of he and Playboy. Thanksgiving, 1967

My Learnin' Horse: Skeeter

If you live in Montana, you MUST have a vehicle, but in 1961 it seemed more important to have a horse. I bought “Skeeter” for $100 from Don MacRae, a local contractor and lumberyard owner, but the big brown gelding had originally come from the Bullshoe relay race horses out at Heart Butte. I suspect that his genes came from decades of big brown cavalry horses, which occasionally got diverted into Blackft hands. Part of the reason I got Skeeter so cheap was that he was old, but the rest of the reason was that he was thin-skinned and every summer the flies picked at his head until he appeared to have mange.

In the 19th century thousands of horses were shot by cavalry to stop the pandemic of horse mange. Of course, it was also a good excuse for getting rid of a key part of Indian military power. When the horses were replaced, the government offered them plow horses. There were already a lot of big heavy horses around, used for wagon shipping and to build the railroad. Those who witnessed the mass slaughter of horses were haunted for the rest of their lives by the screams and thrashing of the horses as they died.

Skeeter didn’t really have mange. Still, it was close enough that people veered off when they saw me and wouldn’t let their horses near mine. Every time Skeeter got loose, he set off for Heart Butte. It was always home in his heart, even after he’d been in the field with our other horses for years. Since in those days there were no fences between Browning and Heart Butte, it was essential to catch him again before he passed the last barbed wire at the edge of town. I learned to feed him oats often and to carry any ropes or halters wrapped around my waist so he wouldn’t see them.

The idea of putting me on this horse was that he wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t safe. The first thing he thought was unsafe was me in the saddle. He was tall, so if there was no one around to give me a hand up, I had to stand on an overturned bucket or the fence. If I tried from the fence, Skeeter turned until he was head-on -- no possibility of getting a leg over. If I tried from the bucket, he cleverly kicked the bucket out from under me just as my toe approached the stirrup. You could ride him in any direction for as long as you liked, and the return home would take twenty minutes. He simply adjusted his speed to the distance. And he adjusted his belly size to make sure the girth ended up loose.

Terrible groans and rumblings came from his middle when you were in the saddle. Seemingly in extremis, he could never resist lying down in a good sandy spot to take a nice roll -- the rider and saddle presenting merely an inconvenience. If only I could have taught him to lie down when I wanted to get in the saddle.

But if we were really out for a ride (and in the early Sixties that was just about every summer morning at daybreak) and we were with Bob on Gunsmoke, his little gray half-Arabian that he got from Hughie Welch, Skeeter would settle down and cover the distance, rocking along in a steady gait from his relay race days. It was a mercy to push him past a trot, as he must have had the roughest trot on the rez, and one had to be alert for quick turns. His turning method was to slam the ground with his front feet to throw his weight in the new direction. Suddenly he went left or right and the unwary rider kept on over his head in the previous direction. I unashamedly hung on to the horn -- TIGHT -- and never got thrown, quite. Ended up pretty high on the horse’s neck.

One day he was cut under the fetlock by glass in the borrow pit along the highway, a constant and vicious hazard. Even after months of not being ridden, he never quite healed up. Indeed, anytime a person appeared to be moving a saddle his way, he made it a point to limp ostentatiously. Pretty soon Bob bought me another horse, Zuke, a smaller pinto who didn’t mind a rider, though he had a bad habit of falling flat on his face. I wouldn’t have believed a four-legged creature could do that.

Skeeter sort of lived in retirement unless we had company. When Bob divorced me, I had no way to take care of a horse and sold him to Harold Hatfield. No doubt he ended up canned. Bob thought this was cold-hearted of me and accused me of wanting to can him, too. He had made a model of Skeeter’s head, which -- flies aside -- was really very nice, a typical hotblood head. It’s still on my wall.

On the morning this photo was taken by Bob out at Trombley’s, he got on “Playboy” -- a beautiful sorrel quarterhorse who was a cousin to “Descent,” the famous bucking horse, and who posed for the horse in “Lone Cowboy.” In about half an hour Bob was lying face down in the trail where Playboy had bucked him off. The horse had begun to buck actually IN a small stream and went up the bank where the trail was cut down by feet. Bob’s shoulders struck on either side of this groove so that the cartilage that holds the rib cage together in front, the sternum, was split. He was enraged but couldn’t get up without help. I managed to get him onto Skeeter and back to the pickup.

I said I was taking him to the Indian Health Service Hospital emergency. He said he wasn’t going to any hospital. I said if he wouldn’t go to the hospital, I’d go into every bar in town and announce that he couldn’t ride his own horse. That did the job. The truth is that he couldn’t have stopped me from driving anywhere -- as soon as the shock wore off, the pain was bad. It took months and months to heal -- never really did. When they did his heart by-pass surgery they sawed open his sternum again, but this time they wired it back together. Nevertheless, for the rest of his life after that morning he wore a kind of leather corset he got Bell, the saddle-maker, to build for him.

But at the moment of this photo life was as good as it could get early on a clear summer morning with the prospect of a long ride. Even Skeeter was kind of looking forward to it. Sometimes it’s a good thing not to know what’s going to happen.

Me and my "Learnin' Horse."