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, June 18, 2006


The Royal Alberta Museum Scriver Show continues through the summer and into November.

After I wrote the just previous blog, I sent copies to the Montana Historical Society, the Royal Alberta Museum, and the Evans and Cree Medicine families. The families just grinned. The Montana Historical Society said I was unfair. Bruce McGillivray, the director of the Royal Alberta Museum, thought there was some justice in what I said. He arranged for Bob’s second wife’s sister, Helene, who was also Bob’s model for the Pieta and his “muse” and encourager in the late years, to be invited to the Opening.

Helene was thrilled. She lives only blocks from the museum, in a river-view condominium in an older building. She has known Bob since he began to date her sister during WWII, when she was 17. When Jeanette divorced Bob in 1959, it only created a temporary gap in his complex and long-standing friendship with her family. The commission to make a “corpus” (Jesus on the cross) brought Bob back into active relationship with both Helene and her and Jeanette’s brother, Maurice. That commission became entangled with the death of Bob’s daughter, Margaret, who was about the same age as Maurice. Bob’s way of handling her death was the creation of his “Pieta,” for which Maurice and Helene were the models.

Helene says she’s not ashamed of her age (81) but she has always warred against actually aging, with considerable success. If the Royal Alberta Museum was expecting a white-haired granny in sensible shoes, they must have been disconcerted by this elegant petite woman clicking through the entryway in her usual high heels. She had brought with her an escort, someone younger and quite handsome. When she saw the big portrait of Bob at the entrance of the display, she burst into tears. “He was grinning, Mary,” she said in her telephone report. “He was like he used to be in the happy days!”

A second-hand report is what I have. I was invited once Bruce saw what the signficance of the claim was, but have no money and am wrestling to understand a recent diagnosis of Diabetes II, which is significantly affected by travel and meals “out.” But Helene’s report was vivid and I thought she should be the star anyway. Her patience and faithfulness have been unending. She is really VERY charming and glamorous and she appreciated the whole scene, the grace and society of it. “All my relatives have gotten old,” she wailed on the phone. Jeanette herself died just a few months ago after years of bedridden pain. “I hope she knew I was at this show and that she was pleased,” declared Helene.

Doug Macfie, head of Clan Macfie in Canada and maintainer of the genealogy website for the family, was also pleased and told the Quebec cousins including Margaret, the cousin for whom Bob named his daughter. Doug tells me that Bob’s grandfather, George Macfie, had two brothers who headed west. I had thought they landed in California and Seattle like the Scriver ancestors, but in fact they remained in Western Canada and have spread across the prairie provinces as the generations multiplied. This suggests to me a new project: making a family tree for the Macfies into a mailing list. There are several cornet players among them -- might there be another sculptor?

Museums and historical societies are nervous about families hanging around, because they often interfere -- sometimes even try to take back donations of objects, claiming they were only loans. Historical societies are particularly tricky because so much of history is about families who are happy to be supportive so long as the accounts are flattering, but inclined to be unhappy when skeletons fall out of closets. For an historical society to double as an art museum is quite common in the West because the value of Western art is often seen as rooted in the history of the frontier. This means that the twists and turns of history can affect the actual cash value of an art collection.

The tendency of Western art curators and dealers has been to find a template that has been successful in the past, and then to force every new artist into that same pattern. All his life Bob was pushed to be like Charlie Russell, both in his technique and as a person -- but he was NOT Charlie. Not even Charlie was the stereotypical person created by legend! To commodify an artist like this is to destroy the very uniqueness that makes him or her valuable.

The enormous contribution of the Royal Alberta Museum in this show of Scriver bronzes is to separate Scriver from the distant SW Western Art Money Machine, as well as the perhaps too-close cliches of Charlie Russell, and to show Bob in his own right. The strangest reactions by pre-readers of “Bronze Inside and Out,” the biography of Bob that the University of Calgary Press will publish in the spring, were those that wanted to remove the genealogy and those who wanted to remove the hunting stories, both important keys to his personality. (Charlie Russell was not a hunter -- he would skin and pack, but would not shoot.)

Edmonton was a major part of the Bob Scriver’s life. The support of the wife he found there, Jeanette, was one reason he was able to move from music to sculpture -- though it meant returning to Browning, Montana, when she would have preferred to live in Edmonton. Her family remained dear to him. For the RAM to include Helene DeVicq in the opening of this exhibit was an act of generosity and justice. Surely it will create good karma. Maybe enough to rub out the curses of the jealous malcontents who invaded the opening of the Scriver Artifact Collection years ago.

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