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."


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

$831,00 PAINTING

Though I’ve fallen far behind with my art mag readalongs, I’ve still been acquiring and reading art mags. Not with subscriptions but as a kind of fox hunt on occasions when I get to Great Falls.

I want to comment on the column called “Straight Talk” which is written by Allan J. Duerr and Thomas F Teirney, the publishers of “Art in the West.” The issue with this column in it is May/June 2006, and has a lovely fuzzy elk monarch with his harem around him, standing in a meadow backed by yellow aspen. The subject the writers chose for their column was the value of art, comparing Michelangelo’s Pieta with Terpening’s recent sale of a painting for $831,000.

First maybe we can deal with the Pieta, which is the name for a whole cluster of sculptures, not just Michelangelo's. The name refers to a group based on Mary holding her dead son, Jesus, in her lap. In fact, when I got curious about who made the statue of Paris Gibson in Great Falls, the town he founded, I searched the bronze monument for a name and came up with a fellow named “Partridge.” He was also the sculptor of the Pieta that is in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Bob Scriver made a Pieta after the death of his daughter. I’ve never made an exhaustive list and don’t know whether any one else has either, but I’ll bet the National Sculpture Society could. And my guess is that the skill and the value of them is all over the place, from high to low.

A commentator contemporary with the making of the Pieta by Michelangelo said (in Italian or maybe Latin) “No one else could make a statue this good.” I’ve heard that said about a lot of statues, some of them of the Western persuasion.

Duerr and Tierney were challenged by someone who said that no painting could be worth $831,000, much less by a popular illustrator who used to be published with slick stories about girls in love. (His girls used to alternate with those of Jon Whitcomb. I was much smitten with them and yearned to be like them. I suppose some young folks must have the same reaction to romantic paintings of 19th century Indians.)

Terpning himself is becomingly humble about all this and says it’s a great responsibility.

What no one is saying is the obvious: Terpning, like Bev Doolittle and Norman Rockwell, is a one-artist print industry. I would be very curious who bought that painting and how the rights to reproduce were handled, because that’s the real value of the painting -- not a yard or so of canvas on sticks, but the promotion and sale of the industrially reproduced image.

This means that he, like a movie star, has a battalion of accountants, lawyers, printing technicians, and publicity managers who must be paid. None of us are ever going to see how that $831,000 divvies out -- unless we work for the IRS, who will get its share. But we should at least be aware that we are not talking about one man in one studio.

Of course, Michelangelo had a studio full of helpers as well. And when the Pope tells you to make something, one doesn’t have the option to decline.

Some years ago a nasty little incident occurred. Terpning had bought a box of glass negatives taken by an unknown photographer. He painted many appealing and saleable works verbatim for these images. What he didn’t know was that they had been stolen decades ago from a woman photographer who lived among the Crow Indians. Her son, an elderly man who was retired in poverty, recognized the images and approached Terpning.

The next thing the old man knew, he was being confronted by hostile lawyers denying him any claim, rights or compensation. He was not even to admit that Terpning had used the images as reference. The whole $831,000 or whatever was evidently committed, with nothing left over for old janitors. He’s gone now, I guess. It's a pity.

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