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."


Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Thad and Ellison Scriver had two sons, one for him and one for her, but the sons themselves either had no sons (Harold) or had a “lost” son (Robert). The solution in Bob’s case was to informally involve -- not quite adopt -- the sons of two other families: Evans and Cree Medicine.

The Joe Evans family, Catholic, had plenty of kids and they related to Bob and his wives because Joe helped to invent the Bighorn Foundry and kept the Scriver Studio in general up and running. Joe was one of those people who can do sheet metal, HVAC, plumbing, or any other mechanical puzzle that came along, aside from the building skills that many folks around here assume they have -- whether or not they do. Anyway, Joe built a big house on the road out to the dump and, with the steady help of his hard-working wife, raised a heap o’ kids who came and went through the studio.

The first funeral I ever attended in Browning was that of Lila Evans, a daughter and fearless horse-rider, who’d pitched off and hit her head on a big stone. It was in the stone Church of the Little Flower, a funeral mass for a child, the Mass of the Angels, and a choir of nuns sang in the balcony. Bob and I were sitting way in the back, so I didn’t even realize the loft was there. When the beautiful voices of the nuns first raised in song, I thought for a moment it was angels indeed.

When Bob sold the rodeo series to the Riverside Foundation and inherited his mother’s money, which made it possible for him to buy the Doane ranch, he hired Corky Evans to live out there for security and to finish off the cows by raising them to the point where they were saleable. Boyd Evans married Lila Walter, whose brother had dated Laurel, Harold’s daughter, who spent enough time with the Walter family to be a sort of honorary daughter in that family. In the 1930 Browning High School yearbook photo of Bob’s sophomore class, Lila’s mother is sitting next to him. According to the Browning newspaper, Bob and Hiram Upham once went out to visit Lila’s mother in the badlands east of the rez and came back with some nice rattlesnakes.

When Bob was commissioned to create a Lewis and Clark monument for Fort Benton, it was Boyd who wore a buckskin suit around on horseback for a few months of ranch chores so it would be authentically creased and greased. When the actual parade celebrating the unveiling came on July 4, 1976, it was Corky who had grown a beard, donned a fur cap, wore the buckskins and rode a horse so skittish that when he got it home it vamoosed, never to be seen again. (After being exposed to bagpipes, Uncle Sam on stilts, and other remarkable sights, it probably never wanted to be in another parade!)

Tony was mortally stricken with cancer. Bob made a sculpture of him on horseback: “Our Tony,” to help raise money to pay the bills. A quick 8”X10” painting Bob made of one of the boys feeding orphan calves -- green hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, tan and white calf, bright yellow straw -- disappeared when Bob died, but remains in all our minds one of the best paintings Bob ever made: simple, vivid, real.

When no one else was around to ride with Bob (usually meaning no female), he’d take an Evans boy with him. Boyd rode with him in the Indian Days Parade. Corky was riding with him, late in life, when he had some kind of episode that knocked him off his horse. Corky figured a heart attack, but Bob would admit nothing and would do nothing about it. Later he did make Boyd promise to bury him beside his horse, Gunsmoke, after Boyd came out with the backhoe and buried the old horse.

The Evans family was an archetypal High Line Montana small town and ranch family -- lank, droll, teasing, almost Ozarkian in their independence and free lance spirit, which occasionally got them into trouble. Think of the parts played by Lucas Black in movies like “Slingblade” or “All the Pretty Horses.”

The Cree Medicine family has no equivalent in movies. They are full-blood, not really traditional, but the old days are very close under the surface. Carl, by now the grandpa and patriarch, is about my age and was Bob’s best shop helper when I came. He did taxidermy, sculpture molds and castings, and building with equal attention and skill. He worked in the shop for all the years I was with Bob. After I left, Bob hired his sons. I don’t know what the circumstances were or the time-line, but I did see the certificates of achievement Bob had given Carl and that Carl kept on the wall of his little office when he was running a program to help street people. I know Carl and Carma managed to kick alcohol and find a home in the Catholic church. Sometimes now we meet at funerals.

David Cree Medicine became Bob’s foreman with Jody as dependable helper. This is a family with many deaths, tragedies and addictions. For people who live on a reservation, that’s the legacy of conquest. Many whites deny it, but others treat even the troubled as individuals deserving respect. In return, the Cree Medicine family never turned away from Bob, either in sickness or when he raged or as the women came and went. They managed the animals and fixed the fence and -- when necessary -- carried Bob in or out of the shop. Rumors went around the rez that they secretly did Bob’s sculpture for him and they did put clay on the armataures. It was David who broke the door down to get to Bob’s body. It was David who helped the Montana Historical Society crew who came suddenly to take everything away, needing to know how to crate bronzes.

The great irony is that these two families of near-sons have been completely invisible to the Montana Historical Society and the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. They are not invited to openings or shows or even advised that there are such events. It was not Lorraine, Bob’s widow, who cut them off or left them out, but rather the officials, who cannot imagine that they exist. Neither do they think of Bob’s five grandchildren, who are nearly fifty now with children of their own.

I suppose a case could be made that Bob Scriver and his work belong to the ages and that these institutions are the guardians. But to the Evanses and the Cree Medicines, Bob’s work was a major part of their lives and they have many stories to tell. Instead, somehow, the lawyers and entrepreneurs have elbowed them aside. The result has been a paralysis, a void, an ignorance.

The Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton will be showing the sculpture of Bob Scriver all this summer, beginning June 8 and ending in November. Maybe some of Bob’s real friends and family will manage to go see the exhibit.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

SCULPTURE REVIEW, Spring 06, "Education of a Sculptor"

When I was in seminary (1978-1982), there were two lively currents of dissent and argument in the student body about the seminary itself. The first one was whether a seminary ought to be only for dedicated persons who wished to become denominational ministers (which was the original definition and founding goal) or ought to be a place to explore oneself, expand, and hopefully become a better person but not necessarily a leader of congregations. (The seminary itself -- always in need of tuition-paying students -- was happy to broaden the goal. The denomination was kicking in money for the program specifically to make sure there were high-quality ministers.)

The other argument was about whether the seminary should be giving us the actual skills we needed for success in the ministry or whether they ought to be giving us broad principles from which we could develop our own understandings, principles and tools. A subset of this argument argued we should sue the seminary for failing in its duty, since some felt a major shortfall when they got into their job placements, a suit that might have had some teeth if anyone had any idea exactly what it was that the place was promising to do.

I say this is as introduction to a discussion of the latest “Sculpture Review,” Spring, 2006, which focuses on “Education of a Sculptor” and puts on its cover aspiring sculptors rather than the usual fine sculpture. (Earnest young men in smocks at Greenwich workshop in NYC, 1935-39, gathered around a serious older man in a three-piece suit.) Though the magazine is sponsored by the National Scupture Society, which seeks to support figurative sculpture, the problems of sculpture are widely shared among all the humanities now that everything, even education, is commodified.

Some argue that if a person goes to an art school and emerges unable to earn a living, that person has been tricked. In music they say that since symphonies are more penniless than ever, more musicians (granted that they are fine) are being produced than there are jobs. (In fact, this was the situation for Bob Scriver right after WWII when his skills would seem to qualify him for a fine orchestra, if those entities hadn’t already been packed.) Others would say that a humanities or fine arts degree and/or any education (since they don’t always coincide!) is such a valuable thing in itself, that no one should complain at having their life enriched.

With characteristic humor, Giancarlo Biagi illustrates his editorial on entering art school with Rodin’s “Gates of Hell!” “Make me into another Michelangelo, Rodin, Saint-Gaudens,” the student begs. But do they know what path they are entering upon? Biagi concludes: “To the layperson’s eyes, the life of an artist appears to be filled with glamour, passion, and success. In truth, however, the path is forged in dedication and humility, enlightened by an intellectual zest and virtuosity, and a unique style that belongs to each artist, in my point of view.”

The first article is a review of The Art Student’s League and the National Academy of Fine Arts, illustrated with two sharply contrasting photos: a cluster of young men in vested suits without jackets, earnestly drawing a naked lady, versus a class of mixed ages and genders sculpting a naked man. Student and faculty works used as illustration mix fusty old Zorach with such modernities as a humorous mixed media polychrome bust of a woman with real hair.

The second article gives us Elisabeth Gordon Chandler, a sculptor and teacher as well as founder of Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Old Lyme , Connecticut. She is 92 and still working. A review of the program fills a page.

Another sculptor/teacher is Evangelos Frudakis who describes both his learning and his teaching, especially at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the oldest art museum and art school in America. (Founded in 1885.) Frudakis and his work look the way most of us (and Hollywood) think a sculptor should look.

The two articles I liked best have long titles: “Teaching the Basics to Foster Mastery: a Survey of Figurative Sculpture Programs” and “Sculptors Educating Sculptors: A Panel Discussion of the New York Academy.” They are about what their titles say they are about. Following the same compare-and-contrast principle, the New York Academy of Art and the Florence Academy in Italy both stick to figurative work. The tricky question of academic credit and degrees is mentioned -- some offer them and some don’t, though one can always petition for equivalence.

The University of California at Berkeley and the University of Oklahoma programs do not stick to figurative sculpture. The latter program was reinstated after a lapse of thirty years by sculptor Paul Moore. Moore’s classroom is pictured, but not his work. Attention is paid to how to run a studio and capture public commissions for monuments, how to relate to a foundry, how to design contracts, how to relate to clients. It is unclear what relationship the program has to the C.M. Russell Center for the Study of Western Art which is funded by the Nancy Russell Foundation and housed at the U of Oklahoma.

The panel discussion had the most striking illustrations. Judy Fox’s super-realistic portraits of children in terra cotta are almost disturbing, as is Laura Frazure’s “Self Portrait as a Japanese Bride.” I was very grateful that the captions for these works were where I expected them to be, so that my eye could find them quickly! I urgently needed to know what I was looking at! (Really, my thanks for this change!) Harvey Citron’s “Charon,” a clay near-diorama of Charon perilously ferrying a couple over a tossing sea (I know -- it’s supposed to be a river, but these huge curling waves are like surf!) kept me looking for a long time.

Taplin, whose work was not illustrated, had an interesting idea about the difference between “hand/eye sculptors” and “conceptual skills.” He wishes for a close relationship between having an idea and having the hand/eye skills to bring it to reality. My guess is that none of these sculptors was particularly enamored of giant clothespins, no matter how realistic.

Fox thought that it was important for an artist to define to his or her self just what they were doing. “It should not be done in a naive way.” (Corrals of home-taught cowboy sculptors bite the dust. Maybe they ought to!)

Visco wanted people to consider their materials and their audience -- why is it important for works to be in a certain medium? I was interested that he said, “Some students can get too involved in process -- they sculpt because they like to touch stuff.” (Very much the way Bob Scriver was. He loved the substances in his hands. Charley Russell was famous for the dirty ball of beeswax he kept in his pocket and constantly modeled.)

Taplin and Eardley contrasted the freedom of Bernini to design the architecture around his figures with the hostility of modern sculptors to being defined by any one place. Citron offered Rodin’s "Balzac" as an example of a monument that could hold its own in many contexts and pointed out that it took over forty maquettes to get to that level.

This whole issue of Sculpture Review, whether approached through the photos of sculpture or through the content of the articles was deeply engaging for both professional and fan.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Birder's List from Southwest Art, April 2006

The April 2006 Southwest Art chose as a focus “Animals in Art.” Since many of the animals in question are birds, I thought I’d just treat the whole issue as birding expedition. What I found was a flock of birds in every style and medium. I don’t know quite what conclusion to draw except that artists love birds -- and why not?

I also found that I didn’t know my birds very well! I simply couldn’t tell what species some of them were. Have to work on that! In the meantime, here’s my list. You might enjoy spotting them yourself.

Heron (sculpture)
2 shrikes (sculpture)
Hummingbird (stylized painting)
Pigeon or dove (realistic painting)
Geese (underfoot in a family portrait)
Chicadee (realistic painting)
Heron (“natural impressionism” painting)
Heron (Even more impressionist painting)
Shorebirds (Godwit? Yellowlegs? Painting)
Flying birds (? Painting)
“Canadian Geese” (Giclee print)
Bluebird (stylized painting)
Eagle (Eagle sculpture)
Crow (one live and one dead, with sculpture figure)
2 crows (realistic painting)
Magpie (realistic painting)
Heron? (painting)
Swans (painting)
Parrots (painting)
Coot (painting)
Peacocks (painting)
Sparrowhawk? (painting)
Cedar waxwing (stylized painting)
Roseate Spoonbills (painting)
Magpies (stylized painting)
Terns (realistic painting)
Golden eagle (realistic painting)
Crow (stylized abstract)
Domestic geese (realistic painting)
“Japanese Bantam Rooster” (sculpture)
China pheasant roosters (sculpture)
Bird on a branch (realistic painting)
Owl (realistic painting)
“Tufted Cranes” (realistic painting)
English sparrows (“poetic expressionist” painting

$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.