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, April 25, 2007


When I tackle the problem of defending Bob Scriver’s heritage, I’m really being self-serving. Not because I expect to make money or gain prestige (which is what some assume), but because I sank a dozen years of my life into the enterprise. We agreed that in all written materials he would be represented as a solitary entity, but the truth is that “Scriver Studio” and especially “Bighorn Foundry” were complexes that involved at least a dozen people, mostly Blackfeet plus me.

So when I walked into the part of the CM Russell Museum where their new gift of Scriver bronzes were on display, nicely placed on Navajo rugs and Metis sashes and interspersed with the Winold Reiss portraits of Blackfeet whom Bob knew personally, I was not surprised to see the grandmother or great-grandmother of the Cree Medicines among them. But I was upset that no connection was made to the Cree Medicine contribution to the Scriver oeuvre. Carl Cree Medicine and I were the most consistent members of Bob’s crew in the Sixties -- we learned bronze-casting together -- and Carl’s son David was the foreman of the Bighorn Foundry and Scriver Studio in recent years. In fact, in 2000 it was David who patiently showed the Montana Historical Society how to pack bronzes for safe transport to Helena. They didn’t know how: they are paper-pushers.

Loving Bob Scriver meant loving three intertwined things: Bob and his work (one and the same), the Blackfeet, and the land itself. My adult life has been shaped by these three things.

So it breaks my heart when the connections are unknown, broken, and disregarded. These bronzes came from a white man who acquired them for speculation, who moved away as soon as he had enough money, and who is not what one would call an “Indian lover.” They have had their community relationships stripped from them.

I’ve been keeping a master list of all the Scriver sculptures I know about, since the MHS is doing so little with their huge acquisition, so I went to the CMR Museum in part to add those pieces to my list. ($7 for senior citizens now.) But the receptionist said I was not to take a pen or pencil into the galleries. I had planned to slip in and out anonymously, which I do every now and then. But I lost my temper, told her who I was, why I was there and a few other things besides.

It would not have mattered except that my arrival happened to coincide with a special prestigious luncheon laid on for the volunteers and patrons. My voice went high and loud enough for even the little old ladies to pay attention. Security guards appeared out of nowhere -- about four of them.

Having vented, I calmed down and went to the gallery to make my list. Then, bless her heart, here came Anne Morand to see what was the matter. At last she was looking at me and seeing me. When she first came to Montana, I had sent her a welcoming email. When there was no response, I made it a point to go down and introduce myself in person. She was pretty busy. I’ve tried to sell my little homemade books about Bob Scriver in their gift shop but the manager wouldn’t even come out of her office. The embarrassed clerk said they didn’t want anything I had. I’ve said good things about Anne in my blog -- I so much want her to succeed in a really tough job. But I could never get her attention. NOW I may have it. She said she’d get back to me. We’ll see.

As time goes on, the field of Western art has grown more and more complex and is competitive to the point of being cut throat. The field is not one thing, but a cluster of styles and subject matters, some historic (which is why the MHS thinks it should have art dealing with the West), some commercial art converted to cowboy subject matter, some fine and famous landscape artists (Moran, Bierstadt), some Taos Seven artists who portrayed Indians, and a lot of self-taught people who have roots deep in the West. There are sharp feelings among those folks -- one sub-group against another or individuals at odds -- especially now that the CAA is into its fifth generation or so and the founders, most importantly, the patriarch and peace-maker Joe Beeler, are dead of old age.

But the real trouble is with the circle of coyotes around the artists, the dealers, speculators and sometimes curators who make their living by buying low and selling high. There are many dubious ways of pushing prices down or up. Art law in Montana is almost nonexistent, so outsiders think it’s the frontier. One sculptor had work in a west side Montana gallery where it didn’t sell after two years of exposure. Or so he thought. When he asked for the work back, it turned out that the pieces HAD sold but the gallery refused to send his money until he brought a lawyer to bear. Luckily, ordinary commercial law was relevant, as it was in the scandalous Steve Seltzer case, but paying a lawyer cut into the profits. That kind of constant chiseling is not unusual.

More than that, there’s a certain amount of price-fixing, colluding, and other funny business behind the scenes that justify the paranoia of artists. One little strategy is to place a collection of art work by some artist in the galleries of a museum, either by gifting it or just offering to loan it. The museum does all the work of setting up a flattering display and curating it as significant. This reassures prospective customers that the art is worthy of high prices, certified by a “public,” semi-academic institution. In truth, many museum directors know little or nothing about art except biography, genre and mediums.

How to recognize “speculator bronzes:”

1. High numbers of castings in the edition. The most elite dealers won’t look at any edition bigger than 24.
2. Many small bronzes on popular familiar subjects (often suggested by the dealer).
3. Bronzes the copyright of which is owned by someone other than the artist. (I had major arguments with Bob over this. He wanted to get rid of the trouble of records. So far, the MHS has not released the provenance records of the copyrights and sales of bronzes for which he kept copyrights. This is to the benefit of speculators.)
4. Casting not under the direct supervision of the sculptor, esp if it’s sold by the foundry itself.
5. Bronzes that constantly circulate among auctions, which proliferate more and more. There are several websites that monitor this action, plus other information. ( is the one I watch most.)
6. Bronzes that other artists and some dealers disparage. When a real masterpiece comes over the horizon, few argue.

In Bob’s case, after his major stroke in 1988, few of his bronzes reached the same level of competence as his work in the late Fifties, through the Sixties, and the early Seventies. The ill-advised “Christ the Teacher” is a good example of seriously strange work. There is a casting of it in this CMRussell gifted collection. You’ll see what I mean. But there are a few others of high quality, too. Look carefully at each piece.

These are the Cree Medicines, Carl and Carma to the left and David and Rosemary to the right. Carl and David look quite a bit like "Old Lady" Cree Medicine. They are in the CM Russell Museum on the occasion of Bob Scriver being given the Governor's award years ago.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


AT WWW.RAISONEE.BLOGSPOT.COM I've started a list of all the Scriver sculptures I know about and am posting whatever it is that I know. I'll try to keep it in chronological order.