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."


Friday, March 24, 2006


On Thursday at 9PM on Yellowstone Public Radio (which can be streamed at Leni Holliman hosts a redaction (and sometimes rearrangement) of some literary event around the state, often something from last year’s High Plains BookFest in Billings. Last night, March 23, the panel Leni presented was on a topic that I’ve searched for without success until now: writing about Western art.

Montana looks entirely different when viewed from the east end. In the Western valleys where the Montana Festival of the Book is staged, cowboy art, cowboys and talk about cowboy art is mostly met with a blank stare, though I’m sure someone in the Flathead would be happy to sell you some cowboy art from about forty years ago. On the east side of the Rockies you stumble over the cowboy artists themselves, as well as the marks made by some historical figures of some stature.

This panel was chaired by Corby Skinner, who is active with writing, theatre, and so on in Billings. His panel had four members:

1. Bob Wakefield, who was a personal friend of Conrad Schweiring and wrote a book about him. Schweiring’s father was the Dean of the School of Education in Laramie, WY, and though “Connie” wanted to be an artist right away (claimed he painted murals on his bedroom walls when he was a child), his father made him get a degree in commerce and law first -- to make sure he could earn a living. After graduation, Schweiring began to paint but didn’t turn away from art education and ended up in New York City where his best teacher told him he was a good artist, but ought to go back where his heart was: the Tetons. By then married, he and his wife set out towing a trailer and found their “heart spot.” For eleven years they lived in the trailer and sold paintings to tourists. Then they’d made enough money to buy land and build. His reputation was made on big landscapes. Towards the end of his life, having moved to the Mexican coast for the winters, he was working on seascapes -- still learning.

Don Frazer is a Will James expert. The book he wrote was not about James but is a bibliography, which would take plenty of pages as a simple list, with information about each book. James told some fanciful stories about his origins, but in fact he was a Quebequois who came West to Alberta. He did pen and ink sketches only -- no color or oil -- of such detail and delicacy that one can understand all the equipment and manuevers portrayed. Bob Scriver always said that Will James was more of an influence on him than Charlie Russell was. The room where the panel was meeting was decorated in Will James’ pictures.

Tom Minckler
is a fine arts dealer and expert on Western art who splits his time between New York City and Montana. His book was still being researched and is unexpected of an unexpected subject: flower still lifes by James Henry Sharp! There turn out to be about 200 of them. Sharp was academy trained in Europe and though he’s noted for paintings of Indians and his involvement with the Taos 7, he also painted many landscapes, often plein air. Bob Scriver had several small sketches painted around Browning, but when Sharp was up north, he mostly stayed in Crow country.

John Taliafero is the author of two boat-rocking books: one a life of Charlie Russell which knocks off a bit of rust and romance in order to reveal a boy who grew up in an affluent and educated family but reinvented himself in Montana as a wild and woolly cowboy who painted his own friends and life. Taliafero also wrote an account of the carving of Mount Rushmore by Gutzon Borglum, pointing out some of the ironies and egomanias involved.

One of the topics Taliafero returned to several times was the ghettoization of Western art. So far in the history of American Art, the Big Deal has been abstract painting in New York City. That has crowded out everything else and in fact, been so hard on realistic representation that such work was driven off into the far corners. Western art then circled its wagons and declared they preferred being able to tell what a painting is about. Since then, there has been a mutually excluding boundary: the Manhattanites consider “cowboy art” to be naive self-taught doodling (though some of it has excellent pedigrees) and cowboy artists think of whatever is sold in big shot galleries as over-intellectual pretentious claptrap.

The very fact that someone so blunt and perceptive as John Taliafero is willing to speak about such things bodes well for the future in my opinion, or the genre will become stagnant and strangulated -- dead. Leni Holliman remarked that after the mikes were turned off at the panel, some smokin’ discussion continued. How I wish I could have heard it!

Maybe next summer at the next High Plains BookFest. The website is already up: Featured speaker is Ivan Doig, who spent his high school years in Valier, where I live now.

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