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.