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."


Monday, July 09, 2007


Monday, July 09, 2007


As you may have noticed, I’ve become interested in the Arts Journal blog called “FlyOver Country” ( and have been growling at Joe Nickell, who is in Missoula and therefore doesn’t realize there is anyone on the eastern side of the Rockies and thinks there is no other arts blogger in the state, totally overlooking “The Eye of the Beholder,” arts blog for the Great Falls Tribune. ( In my opinion she has the most elegant logo in the newspaper of any I’ve seen, though it’s not the same as her banner. Maybe I don’t know what’s going on in other places either (like Missoula), but I have a half-century history with GF.

The comment I’ve reprinted below is not a response to a post by Joe Nickell, but rather by his fellow blogger, Jennifer Smith, inviting a report on the scene where the reader is. This is my report to her.


Montana is said to be a town with a main street 500 miles long. Another version of the same thing is that the arts here are a mile wide and about a quarter-of-an-inch deep. In short, in order to get enough critical mass to talk about the arts here, one must just about necessarily talk about the whole state at once.

Yet, the paradox is that visual art is very much Balkanized. The two university towns have their own little circles, the three or four mini-cities (Great Falls, Kalispell, Billings, Butte) and the two valley refuges of wealth and culture (Livingston and Hamilton), each have their own idea of what good art might be, their own icons, and their own aspirations.

What I know best is the sector called "Art of the American West," meaning "art that sorta reminds you of Charlie Russell." In a thinly populated state like this one, it is less represented by the few galleries and museums than it is by auctions (the one in Great Falls on Charlie's birthday in March or the Western Art Rendezvous in Helena in August) and magazines, especially "Southwest Art" and "Art of the West." Because Western art is often taken to be a record of history in the West (Remington and others came to notice by suppling art to go in newspapers before there were photographs) the Montana Historical Society magazine also serves, though at one time it came to notice that it had sunk to "pandering" to certain speculators and since has had a policy forbidding living artists. (This policy is not enforced in their museum.)

A strange ambivalent symbiosis connects Western art collectors in other more "high-rolling" places back east or in the Southwest and people who live in Montana. Partly the situation is that the collectors live in population centers where they make enough money to buy a little prestige-enhancement and the artists at least pretend to live in-country where the subject matter actually exists and the cost of living is a little lower.

But in Helena just a few blocks away from the Historical Society is the Holter Museum, contemporary, frisky, and willing to venture ideas about the future. They accept Native American art, but not "Cowboy" art. They are also much friendlier to contemporary writing and such phenomena as ceramics.

Across the state in Livingston is a genuine Renaissance man, Russell Chatham, son of a noted California impressionist. He has run a fine bistro, a publishing house, a gallery, a fine arts press, and so on -- while befriending the wild movie types who have bought ranches around there. He paints landscape in a romantic, atmospheric, yearning way that finances all his other interests and makes book covers so fabulous that I'm sure they've contributed to the success of Jim Harrison's novels. Missoula knows him as a man who attends the Montana Festival of the Book as a publisher. His art? Eh.

There is a Montana Arts Council, whose executive grew up on a grain farm outside Great Falls and who once worked for the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, and whose president (also female) is a Blackfeet Indian. They spend a lot of time thinking about money and hardly glance at "cowboy art." The past president (male) is an "art lawyer" who constantly tries to coach both artists and community about common sense business practices. Art law in the state is very weak, which encourages buccaneers.

I've been here, off and on, since 1961, and am still surprised by what turns up or turns around.

End of comment.

I’m going to take this discussion to my other blog, to clear the way for backed-up posts I want to make here, so you might want to migrate with the subject. I get incensed when people who purport to know all about “what’s on the ground” when they don’t, but one can hardly blame them if no one fills them in, especially when so much of what goes on in a place like Montana started to happen before they were born. It’s a circle -- they ignore us, so we ignore them. When it comes time to raise money -- ouch.
Posted by prairie mary at 3:54 PM 0 comments
Labels: arts
Sunday, July 08, 2007


This is from www.slog.the “The Stranger” is a Seattle newspaper, I assume an alternative paper, which I haven’t ever read.

Know Who I Like Reading?

Posted by Jen Graves on June 11 at 18:15 PM

Joe Nickell, the Missoulian writer who is part of a new blog on ArtsJournal called Flyover: Art from the American Outback. Nickell writes at the heart of his subjects (chiefly music), he’s mellifluous in print, and, in person, he has a hell of a way with old-timey shirts.

The blog is a group portrait of art in smaller cities by arts journalists of all kinds. It’s exactly the sort of thing I wish had been around (Nickell and co. invented it several months ago) when I was writing about art in Denton, Texas, and in Tacoma, where my boss once asked me whether the dancers at the ballet also sing while they’re performing.

These writers have tough jobs, jobs with high highs and low lows, jobs where cynicism is not an option. Read them. Throw in your comments.

Poor Joe Nickell, I read his blog for the first time through Arts Journal, which comes to me as an automatic daily newsfeed and which often points me to really useful stories. But, as is often the case when one expects one thing and gets another, I was upset because I thought that Joe would be writing about Montana arts, the whole state, but he sticks to Missoula. Missoula is NOT flyover country -- it’s a destination for global hipsters. What he’s picking up is the hem of Seattle, not the robes of the prairie.

But Joe’s only been there ten months and his specialty is music, so he must be forgiven for not understanding what the arts in Montana really are. He could start his research -- should he be interested -- by contacting Arlynn Fishbaugh, the executive for the Montana Arts Council. (Her background includes being staff for the Metropolitan Opera -- I haven’t asked her whether she has any “Bubbles” Sills stories.) But even Arlynn and the MAC have little consciousness of the 500 pound gorilla in this state, which is the legacy of Charlie Russell.

I jabbed Joe with a sharp stick in the comments for “Flyover Country” saying the Montana art world needs some REAL criticism, distinguishing good art from schlock. The response was not “ow” but “huh?” His assumption seems to be that he never writes about the annual March Russell Auction so therefore he never writes about art schlock. But he mistook me (and I did a bad job of commenting) because in my opinion and that of expert others, the auction often includes fine examples of American Impressionism which simply have Western subject matter. The point I was chasing is that most of the people who attend the auction and the complex of accompanying auctions where the schlock is most often found (the Russell auction itself is formally curated/juried) can only tell good art from bad by looking at the name of the artist and knowing how much money it is thought to be worth. (This is why bad art sells better if it’s priced high.)

That flashed past Joe like a pursued fox. But I regret using the term “schlock.” It means tawdry, inept, poorly done -- which is too much of a pejorative for a genre that has steadily improved and took a major leap with the newest influx: classically trained realistic painters from China. (They show regularly at the Western Art Rendezvous coming up in Helena. It’s really a kick to stand close enough to small groups of them to hear their chatting in Chinese. Can it be called eavesdropping if you can’t tell what they’re saying?) But even these fine artists, who make all the self-taught cowboy painters look desperate, are rather prone to “schmaltz,” which means over-sentimentality. The core of East Coast illustrators who galvanized the Cowboy Artists of America had the same combination of fine technical skill with a sort of sweet vignette sensibility drawn from the short stories they enlivened in slick magazines.

“What’s not to like?” many of my friends would ask. Well, I dunno. I have this sort of crazed romantic idea left over from my undergrad training in theatre: stuff about the heart of human meaning, a distinctive vision of the world, and all that.

Joe’s background sounds also romantic but more from a later generation than mine, the one that found their soul in music, oddly parallel but not the same as Bob Scriver’s “swing” generation. Bob’s kind of music got the soldiers through WWII. I think Joe must be from the Vietnam Era.

Those people don’t respond to sharp sticks, so I will try -- as here -- a little more courtship and networking. Part of my reaction to Joe is really about Missoula. On this side of the Rockies we see them as the home of snobbery, xenophobia, and fancy drugs. For the music freaks, it’s much closer to George, the fount of hip music. (The name is a play on the location in the Columbia Gorge. It’s an ampitheatre rather than a dive.)

The “pitch” for flyover country is that it is about the arts in “small cities,” but too many Montana small cities appear to be beneath notice here. Somebody send Joe Nickell some gas money.
Posted by prairie mary at 12:05 PM

No comments: