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."


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Cowboy Artists of America in December, 2005

Kristin Bucher, editor of “Southwest Art,” in her editorial for December, 2005, did a nice balancing act when talking about the most recent changes in CAA. Briefly, she told us that some important members have been lost: Ray Swanson (deceased young), Roy Anderson, Robert Pummill and Jim Reynolds (the original “yellow slicker” artist -- his are often wet with rain).

On the other hand, the group -- which no one on the outside expected to persist, since keeping “cowboy artists” within a boundary is roughly like herding cats -- has met its fortieth anniversary. They did a smart thing: returned to the former Oak Creek Tavern in Sedona, AZ, where the organization originated in the high spirits resulting from participating in a trail drive. I wonder who actually attended.

Kristin notes that the group includes a couple of dozen members, but I think the original membership was quite a bit smaller and the number of members who have traveled through is MUCH larger. For a while there were female members. For a while there were “associates,” sort of aspiring CAA members. I’d like to see a list of ALL the members of every sort. The four who left this time had been long-time members.

An organization cannot last forty years without changing with the times, but CAA leapt from a scene where “cowboy artists” were just a kind of folk phenomenon, to a market today that approaches a million dollars per painting. (For some reason, though sculpture is more expensive to produce, it’s the paintings that get the high prices.) The original premise of CAA was that all the artists were especially good because they were actual practicing cowboys who could at least ride and were REQUIRED to show up once in a while to ride and re-”bond” with the other members. In those days, it was assumed that authenticity was one of the major dimensions of good cowboy art. One of the continuing tensions in the group was that some were better at drawing or whatever than others were, but they were good buddies, had been there at the beginning, and WERE cowboys.

Now people want to join because the quality of the art as art is high so that art buyers who can’t really tell what’s good will have some assurance. The reason the art has become so good is because of the migration of trained illustrators out of the NE into SW studios. Today’s CAA members might or might not have a little cowboy in their background. (Of course, that migration happened a few decades ago and many of those folks have aged and gone on ahead.) What’s more painful is that the camaraderie -- one for all and all for one -- seems to be breaking down as skill and high sale prices become the more important criteria. The gentlemen’s code of the NE artists has also been left behind.

The departure of the noted artists is probably not as serious as the hardening of attitudes and business practices (which have always been contentious) brought on by association with the print industry. The people who put out prints are frankly corporate and their lawyers are steely. Artists who are bound to them by contracts and big incomes soon realize they are captives.

This has lead to a souring of relationships with secondary businesses like index websites, for instance, “” which also had a major gunslinger-type shootout last summer with CAA. I have no idea whether this is related to the leaving of the four artists. AskArt deleted all CAA members in the aftermath of CAA lawyers’ accusations over photos of the art, which seemed to be only the mask for the real issue: AskArt publishes auction results and some artists were not doing well at auction. (At least one artist who stepped out of CAA is now posted on AskArt again. The website is a major source of information for curators, buyers, writers, and so on.)

So Western art auctions, which have contributed to the major jumps in price, have also made some artists vulnerable. There are a lot of them, the prices are taken as indicators of quality whether or not they actually are, and the artists cannot control them. They tell me that when Bob Scriver’s bronzes didn’t sell well at auction, his fourth wife actually wept. (Of course, she drank and that makes people sentimental.)

Cowboy Artists of America are used to being admired. Those who weren’t, quietly stepped out. And one of the by-products of this admiration is that people collect artists as much as their art. So buyers expect to be guests in the artist’s home, expect “their” artists to attend their social events, and so on. This is a corporate model, maybe, except no golf. But it is very high pressure, esp. for people who are naturally more attuned to long days at the easel in their studio. There is often great emphasis on how congenial a particular artist might be. In my experience, these individuals are likely to be people who praise your spouse on top of the table and kick your dog under the table.

One of these people swept in here to the Blackfeet reservation a few years ago with a lot of giclee prints under his arm (instead of beads and silk ribbons), demanded a lot of accommodation in terms of rounding up scenes and models he could photograph, and left at the end of a week or so. He and his print company has made millions, the local people have giclee prints on their walls without really knowing what they are, and this artist has moved on to the next reservation -- all while claiming enormous rapport and sympathy with Blackfeet, about which he knows little or nothing. This observer was not impressed.

I wonder whether CAA could persist if Joe Beeler, one of the founders, were to be lost from the group. His personality seems to exceed all the others even as he tries to be inclusive. He is a carrier of the original CAA vision and often a diplomat in their midst.

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