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."


Saturday, August 07, 2010


The CM Russell Art Auction is like an iceberg, to use an image that this summer is more welcome back East than here. But truly there is much behind the scenes on several different levels. I was there in the beginning and I’m here at the end, without any special privilege, but still I have a few things to point out.

The major worldwide art scene has changed radically. I work with print where there has been a huge furor over the fate of paper books, now being replaced by electronic books. This has only barely begun to reach the awareness of most people. Barnes & Noble or Oasis Books in Choteau look about the same, but they are not. The difference is that the BUSINESS MODEL of books is entirely disrupted by electronics and other forces. Layers of middlemen who operated by travel, phone and mail, searching for used books or hand-selling on-site for the wholesalers, are gone. Books have always been objects and therefore samples had to be schlepped around (they are heavy en masse). Readers bought from a shelf supplied by someone -- we don’t think about that. Even the used books had to be physically found and transported to the used book store, like the wonderful accumulation at Oasis, mostly first edition American and Western books. But now finding the books, selling the books, distributing the books can all be done online.

Paintings and sculptures -- even artifacts -- are no different. The advantage of the auction was that it brought a lot of objects together to be inspected and bought. The publicity was as valuable as the schmoozing among dealers, artists and customers. Now all that can be done online where, it’s far more discrete and private -- no need to invent secret signals to keep the curious from craning their necks. But then why have an auction?

For a while there was a furor over keeping the auction catalogues off websites because some artists copied the work of other artists, but then it became clear that people were buying direct from the catalogue. One can’t really see small factors, like the back of the painting, but it’s possible to inquire through someone. Several times I’ve been asked to take a look at a specific work as it hangs and report to someone far away. If the key effective gallery is an auction website, then there’s really no reason for a bricks and mortar building.

When the auction began 42 years ago, it was modeled on an earlier experiment (also powered by Van Kirke Nelson, the doctor who has used the capital from his ob-gyn practice to subsidize Glacier Gallery in Kalispell) in Spokane. That time around it was Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J. (deceased) who was trying to raise money for his Museum of Native American Culture, now dispersed. Father Schoenberg’s book, “Indians, Cowboys and Western Art: A History of MONAC,” intro by Van Kirke Nelson and Paul Masa, was published in 1981. The events begin in the mid-Sixties. It was a time when Indians were still understood to be a remnant conquered population, cowboys were noblemen on horseback, and artifacts were fair game for anyone to acquire.

Probably Indian Empowerment politics did more to disperse MONAC than any other single force, but also there was a fatal mixing of charity, mystique, tax breaks, and exploitation. Many artists were barely surviving or just starting out, so they could be easily pushed into donating something. Nelson and Masa already had a backlog of art in their warehouses that needed to be promoted and cleared out. The Ad Club -- embodied by Norma Ashby -- saw at once that the product was available, the peg of Charlie Russell was a potent one in the age of Ronald Reagan, and Great Falls was outside the orbits of the giants: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Amon Carter Museum, Cowboy Hall of Fame and several others. Since that time there have been many shifts, some political and some in product. And there are many auctions and shows.

I have argued, in the face of screams of rage from some people, that the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel is essentially Republican. They were marketing on a triumphalist platform emotionally and in capitalist unregulated mode economically, An enlightened person can now see that the prairie clearances of the Native Americans was a genocide not unlike today’s Afghanistan, Iraq, or Somali, and that the artifacts, mythology and lore of the autochthonous peoples should profit those people more than their depictors.

In the capitalist context, some kept arguing that art was no different than the stock market, derivatives of Charlie Russell, while all the time cautioning people to buy what they dearly love because that’s what really counts. (And that masks failures to invest wisely.) A whole business context, partly websites like that act like stock market tickers for auctions and partly slick magazines that “curate” artists, has grown up around this idea. The public, uneducated about what makes art good and resistant to fancy analysis, simply judges art by how much its worth. But the value of art is located more in the sizzle than the steak. An art work is simply worth what it will sell for, regardless of whether it is a Picasso or not.

Montana is a place where there is very little art law and the nuances of numbering, limiting, deriving, etc. are not widely known. An object is treated like an object. So when Bob Scriver was sued for selling a customers’ numbered bronze to someone else next on the waiting list because when the bronze was sent COD, they didn’t have the cash money to accept it, the Montana courts sided with Bob. When the famous lawsuit over the Seltzer that seemed to be a Russell was awarded to Seltzer, that cooled the action. Now the big NA artifact sting in the SW also chills the scene.

In fact, the SW -- which is where what I called the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel first took root -- is now saturated with Cowboy art. The Indian art of the West (meaning art BY Indians, not about them) has taken a slightly different route and so has most of the wildlife art. Scarcity raises value; plenitude drops it. The Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel is now webbed among many major institutions, enough to support a class of curators and directors who have not dropped the on-going connections among profiteers and scholars, publishers and promoters.

What made Great Falls a valuable center was the authenticity of a population and place that was in many ways innocent. The forty-two years of its run was four times longer than the typical peak production period of an artist’s work, usually about ten years between his learning curve up and his aging curve down. In the beginning the Scriver Award could be given to people who actually knew Charlie Russell. Now it just goes to patrons and customers. One lady who customarily flew in on a Lear Jet with a group of wealthy Kentucky aficionadoes said that she had “seen everything of interest” that was local. She’s been out as far as Fort Benton and Choteau. Did I know of anything she might have missed? It was all getting a little tiresome. That tells the story.

Monday, August 02, 2010

BOB SCRIVER: The Trajectory of a Career

BOB SCRIVER: The Trajectory of a Career
This post is preparation for a talk I will give at the Gear Jammers’ Convention in East Glacier on September 9. The Gear Jammers drove the famous red tour buses in Glacier Park and returned many summers, observing local development.

When Thad and Wessie Scriver’s two sons were adolescent in Browning, Montana -- white boys on the Blackfeet Reservation -- they were not all that different from each other. Both were excellent musicians, both were hunters, both were good students and both were full of beans. But Harold was the older boy and earmarked to join his father in the family business. Robert was the younger and would have to find some other career. The possible interests and talents included art, music and taxidermy.

No one took taxidermy very seriously and his mother was indignant at the very idea of art, which to her meant a ne’er-do-well life. But she liked the idea of music -- she herself had a little musical talent -- if only it would yield a living. When Robert’s music teacher in the Browning schools pointed out that Robert had major talent and volunteered to help the boy at Dickinson State Teachers’ College where the teacher was going for more training, she agreed. In fact, later when she Robert went on to the Vandercook School of Music on the south side of Chicago, she went along to interview Mr. Vandercook herself and was entirely charmed.

Harold had been sent to Kinman Business College in Spokane, where he did fine, though he would really rather have been a rancher. Each young man embarked on his career well aware that they were meant to stay in Browning with their parents. Then came World War II and it was no longer a matter of choice in their minds: they both enlisted. Robert was already married with a daughter, teaching in Browning and then in Malta. Harold married when he was home on leave.

When the intake questionnaire was filled out, Harold had answered honestly that he was a skilled big game hunter and a crack shot. He was assigned to Patton’s forces in North Africa and refused to ever discuss it. Afterwards he returned to a quiet life managing the Browning Mercantile. Eventually he bought a small ranch on the edge of town. He ran the store alongside his father until his father’s death, then until his own death.

When Robert joined the military, Harold made him promise to answer every question with “musician.” Robert’s marriage fell apart during the war. Stationed in Edmonton, he had been assigned to the Alaskan Division of the Army Air Force Band in which he was the first chair cornet. When possible Robert, now “Bob,” played in clubs and gave private lessons. He also began to look into such projects as mink ranches and fur buying. He married a French-Canadian girl, Jeanette, in an effort to get at least partial custody of his children. Jeanette claimed that if Edmonton had been big enough to support a symphony orchestra, Bob would have stayed there. In the end he returned to Browning and resumed teaching, but it didn’t work. He began to think seriously about what sort of business he could create.

Right after WWII the national parks began to attract much attention, partly as a matter of patriotic pride and partly because the newly reunited families finally had access to tires and gasoline. It was the age of the “woody” stationwagon and the family camping vacation. Eisenhower was creating the major highway system that would unite the nation and that included the Al-Can Highway -- the ambitious route from the US to Alaska across Canada. Browning and Glacier Park were on that route through Alberta, which meant much traffic, both tourists and hunters.

Bob and Ace Powell, co-conspirators, began to think about how to produce tourist items. Ace had some training in forming plastic but it would be too expensive, so they turned to a kind of plaster as hard as ceramics. Bob went back to Vandercook for his Master’s Degree in music, just in case the idea didn’t work. Scouting the industrial south side of Chicago, he found Koroseal, a new kind of flexible material for molds, and p300, a latex mixture that could create unbreakable antlers for small game figures. These “secrets” gave him an advantage.

The experiment was launched in an old service station and seemed to work well enough to justify investment in two lots on the highway across the boundary street from the Museum of the Plains Indian; an ancient warehouse belonging to J.H. Sherburne (originally built by an earlier Indian trader), a collection of basic tools like crowbars and nail pullers, and an old red truck. Bob and his crew, mostly former students, took apart the warehouse, hauled the lumber to the lots, straightened the nails, and put together the first part of the complex that would become the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife.

In 1952 the first floor included a little sales shop, an alcove where a giant grizzly reared, and a workshop. Upstairs was storage for plaster castings and a paint booth for lacquering them with an airbrush. In the basement was a pole rack for scraping the fat off bear hides and an ancient wine vat where hides soaked all winter in mild acid to tan them. Taxidermy and small plaster casting went along together, completing each other. On a selling trip one fall Bob and Jeanette received so many orders for the little figures that they had to add staff and spend the winter working hard to cast, trim and paint them.

In 1958 the second section built was the major hall of the museum where the goal was to present an excellent example of each of the major trophy species of Montana, plus a collection of birds and small mammals. Because they needed a big high space with no columns supporting it, Jimmy Fisher suggested the rafters be designed like bridge supports. The plan was to include lectures on animal anatomy and maybe wildlife movies. By 1960 the third section to the west was two rooms, one a gallery for Bob’s sculpture and guest painters, and the other for miniature dioramas of the game animals. This last was finished in 1962.

After that came work spaces: an unheated shed for saws and plaster storage and the first version of the foundry, which was the old coal shed from the Browning Merc, expanded on the north end with a cement block space for baking molds and melting bronze. Bob’s own house, the first he had owned, was also built in the backyard, which was so crowded by this time that he considered just roofing the whole thing over.

Instead, across the highway at that time was a motel and cafe, and he bought land behind it. By 1966 this became a corral with the moved-in addition of the old stable that had sheltered the Browning Merc delivery wagon and faithful horse, Old Rock. In time he bought the motel/cafe and moved it out to his ranch west of town. When the owner of the concrete tipi threatened to demolish it, he bought it and moved it across the street from the museum, where eventually the Circle K was built. In 1988 he gave the concrete tipi to the Town of Browning and it was moved back to its original location. One might call it the creeping tipi.

By then the bronze business was major. Bob bought out his neighbor to the east and added a steel building to house a two-story gallery. Upstairs presented an example of each of his works and downstairs was an elegant setting for his portraits of Blackfeet. To the north, out back, the foundry was rebuilt, a far more ambitious and spacious industrial factory capable of casting heroic-sized bronzes. He rehung the massive skulls that gave the foundry its name: the Bighorn Foundry. When he bought a ranch west of town, called the Flatiron Ranch, the outbuildings were soon filled with molds for full-mounted animals, old farm and ranch equipment, a spring wagon, a sleigh, and a restored buggy.

By the time Bob Scriver died in January, 1999, the value of his estate was in the multi-millions. It was dispersed quickly, awkwardly and inexpertly. His sculpture molds were destroyed as he had requested and evidently the taxidermy molds were unrecognized and dumped as junk. I don’t know what happened to the original plasters. Eloise Cobell, with her usual resourcefulness, managed to preserve local ownership of the Flatiron Ranch by arranging cooperation between the Nature Conservancy and the Blackfeet Land Trust. The museum complex was sold to the Blackfeet Tribe and became the Blackfeet Heritage Center. The bronze portraits of Blackfeet went to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. The rest of the estate went to the Montana Historical Society where it is stored in a warehouse next to the Fish and Game complex by the airport. All the full-mounts went to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation which already has a huge collection of such figures. The paintings, whether by Russell, Remington, Rungius or Fery, were dispersed in two auctions, one in a major Coeur d’Alene Galleries Auction held in Reno and the other in a near-private auction in Kalispell.

A great deal of Blackfeet artifact material remained even after Bob sold the Scriver collection to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. Much of it was intercepted and impounded at the Canadian border on one pretext or another. Some of it was stored at the Montana Historical Society alongside impounded materials from other people. Anything more than that is undisclosed. Whether all or part of it was “repatriated,” in the sense that it was given to enrolled Blackfeet members, is not known. Scriver’s personal Thunder Pipe Bundle which was never sold in his lifetime, disappeared. The judge who presided over his probate hearings lost the next election and left.

Rumors continue to circulate that millions are missing. Bob’s fourth wife’s lawyers hint that the money went to her brothers when she died in 2003, but that’s unconfirmed. Since they live in Vancouver, B.C. and are quite wary, it’s hard to investigate. There is a small “Scriver Family Trust” with a lawyer in Helena that grants an annual modest bursary to art students at Carroll College. Each of Bob’s grandchildren received $10,000, as did Bill Byrne, the student who helped demolish that original old warehouse.

After Harold’s death, the Browning Mercantile was owned and run by his daughter, Laurel, who eventually sold it. Not long afterwards it burned to the ground. The land was sold to the United States Postal Service which built a big new Post Office there. The house where Harold and Robert grew up is now the Eagle Calf Medical Supplies business managed by Leland Ground. Right next door is Cuts Wood Nitzipuwasin Real-Speak Immersion Blackfeet School. And so it is that times change. Between 1951 when Bob was 37 and 1999 when he died at 85, he created thousands of sculptures, some of them classics, mostly in storage -- unseen.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Bob has been gone almost a decade now, but I notice that's no barrier to being on Facebook! So I'm posting my hoard of photos there -- not the sculptures but just the snapshots and so on. Not everyone will be interested, but in case you are, it's there. It's interactive, so you can add messages or photos yourself.

I was in the CM Russell Museum in Great Falls and informed by one of the clerks in the gift shop that Bob Scriver has "nothing" to do with the museum, which is only about Charlie Russell. Okay. We'll compensate. Maybe they'll "get over it."

Prairie Mary

Thursday, June 17, 2010


“The Art of the Calgary Stampede” is the catalog accompanying a show curated by Brian Rusted at the Nickle Arts Museum in Calgary. It’s not just that I so appreciated the lunch Brian hosted for myself and the U of Calgary Press staff at a VERY fancy restaurant after I gave a talk about “Bronze Inside and Out,” my bio of Bob Scriver. (I felt as though I’d wandered into a scene from “Sex and the City.”) It’s not just that he continues to understand what I say about Western art and, more importantly, WHY. It’s not just that he carefully reads Brian Dippie’s work, which I consider the most penetrating commentary on Western art, “even though” Professor Dippie is Canadian. In fact, maybe a main feature of my appreciation for Brian Rusted is that he IS Canadian! The American Western art melee is, well, shall we say “undignified?”

Things just happen in the world, sometimes for no obvious reason, and then in hindsight show a clear pattern. Thus, the Calgary Stampede has been a precipitating crystal that has gathered an audience interested in Western art, and therefore potential customers. California’s Ed Borein (1872 - 1945) became the trademark artist for the event which used a sinuous image of a saddle bronc rider atop a sunfishing horse, variously called “Scratchin’ High” (a reference to spurring, which is meant to be high and vigorous), “I-see-u” (is that a poker reference?) or “Stay Above Him, Old Hand.” The iconic image exists in several media, including a bronze called “Bronc Twister” by Rich Roenisch, an Alberta sculptor. (Roenisch is listed in the invaluable reference website called AskArt, but needs to have a bio added as do several other Canadian artists mentioned here.)

In my mind, which is centered on the Sixties, Charlie Beil (1894 - 1976) is the definitive Stampede artist because for many years he provided the trophies for events. Brusque and busy, Beil tried to escape mentoring other artists, but if someone captured his attention by doing good work, he immediately set to work as a mentor. Charlie Russell had done for him as he in turn did for both Bob Scriver (1914- 1999), whose best and early recognition was in Calgary where his rodeo series found a home at the airport, and later Jay Contway, also a Montana figure who provided trophies. These artists were participants in the Western life, not just studio artists. Scriver had known Beil when the former was a child and the latter was an itinerant cowboy in East Glacier Park, paid to meet the Great Northern train whooping and shooting. But Beil also taught both men to be dependable businessmen. Jay Contway has for years sponsored a significant art show, “Friends of Jay Contway,” in Great Falls as one of the cluster of art auctions around Charlie Russell’s birthday in March. (In the Sixties I taught school on the Blackfeet Reservation while Contway did the same; he is about my age.)

Rusted notes that the early exhibitions associated with the Calgary Stampede were framed as education entwined with competition and commerce. Exhibits of high school student work featured scholarships as prizes. Trying to separate art as being so elite and ethereal that it needn’t consider monetary success is useless when dealing with Western art. There is always a ranch that needs to be saved and, like bronc riding, selling art is one way to do it.

However, as time passed and the more “poetic” and aesthetic artists appealed to the growing sophistication of Calgary folks, there was a drift away from cowboy artists and subjects. Luckily, the new artists included Gissing (1895 - 1967 -- an impressionist landscape artist of enormous charm), Rungius (1869 - 1959 -- a painter of game animals and a good friend of the Beils, who looked out for him in Banff), and Grandmaison (1892 - 1978 -- a fine portraitist of Native Americans). Today the artists related to the Calgary Stampede include people who weren’t born yet in the Sixties, so I hardly know them. As is a continental phenomenon, the Native Americans, like Annora Brown (1899 - 1987) or Dale Auger (1958 - ) supply the abstract paintings, while the “cowboys” stick to the figurative. In the Thirties the rising popularity and increasing skill of photography drew it into the category of art.

Rusted says that he resisted accounting for the Stampede art in terms of a narrative line of names and dates, partly because it implies an unjustified story of steady development in a single way when it was actually the result of interacting forces, sometimes local and sometimes continental. The goal of developing local pride and identity has always grappled with continental forces of popular culture and economies. Alberta is a wealthy province in which the aboriginal population has considerable political clout, which is a unique situation. And yet the high-and-dry geography that Wallace Stegner felt defined the West extends from far north to far south, even into Mexico. Stegner himself lived on both sides of the Canada/USA border.

As centered on individual achievement in the context of a defined place as both art and rodeo must be, they are an important source of humanistic interpretation to account for how such phenomena arise and what they might mean. In the case of celebrations of the West, there has been an abiding historical consciousness, awareness that the frontier was already disappearing in 1900 -- Time’s arrow slaying a way of life that could not persist. Both rodeo and art, in spite of all the accumulated accouterments of modernity (e.g. light shows and rock music to introduce bull-riders or online bidding wars for auctioned masterpieces).

The general and global art market still anchored in Paris and Manhattan do not quite realize the existence and potential of Western art in spite of its explosive development in the American Southwest. Brian Rusted’s advantage is access to a relatively unrifled trove of materials in a place not so pressured and corrupted by the drive to “get rich.” And yet there is an abundance of evidence magnetized by the Calgary Stampede, well worth organizing. Rusted has expressed some optimism that the show at the Nickle Arts Museum, Libraries and Cultural Resources, at the University of Calgary might be expanded both as gallery exhibit and as manuscript. I sure hope so.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Monday, May 10, 2010
The sexuality of Western artists. Well, that got your attention, didn’t it? Actually I was thinking about Deleuzeguattarian thought, specifically the concept of “lines of flight” which is a way of finding the pre-existing fractures and layers in hierarchical systems and using them to escape to a more free, just and beautiful world.

First we’d better settle the gender issue. Yes, cowboy artists can be female and, yes, they can be sexual and, yes, they can be same-sex lovers and, yes, they can be promiscuous or opportunistic or you-label-it. At this moment some people will be shaking with terror that I might name names. I’m thinking about it. But the females can be dismissed because NOBODY CARES. Unless we’re talking Emily Carr or Georgia O’Keefe, both of whom minded their own business. Most of the time. People have their weak moments. The other factor is that as soon as a woman artist shows signs of sexuality -- conventional or not -- she is likely to be re-assigned OUT of the cowboy artist remuda.

So now the guys. “Brokeback Mountain” has not reached the Western atelier and gallery and Annie Proulx has left the West. Still, after fifty years hanging around the corrals and chutes, I’ve picked up a few observations. And so have others. I note this paragaph from an article in “Big Sky Journal” Summer 2003 by Scott McMillion writing about Floyd DeWitt, a tough, reclusive, visionary sculptor (married with daughter).

“A rodeo bull obviously qualifies as Western art, as does some of his other work. But Floyd likes to pop bubbles. Witness the piece that he calls “PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) Cowboy, but one I always think of as the gay caballero. This is a dude [sic] so fey you can almost hear his affected lisp. Floyd says he’s a monument to the rednecks and wastrels who gave him bum advice back in Wolf Point, who told him to quit school and go bust horses.”

So DeWitt is not being friendly, and he has squarehead misconceptions about gays, but at least he knows the category exists. Being gay is defined in Montana small towns as being weak, a loser. Therefore, even the kind of big masculine hairy males that are called “bears” in certain San Francisco circles would find it bad strategy to be defined as “gay” if they lived here. Being invisible is worse than being stigmatized and DeWitt knows it, having spent a few invisible years.

Now I have to stop to say that I’m in a position (ahem -- “was”, actually) to testify that Bob Scriver desired women -- lots of them. Whether he related to men in that way is outside any knowledge I have, except that I recognized quite a few floater men who showed up and stayed around for a while because they were clearly attracted to Bob. (They liked bears.) They ignored me. One worked in the shop for a few weeks. One was a photographer who slept on our sofa and told us all about his mother. More than a few were traders with art works in the trunks of their cars. There was a pedophile author who hung around for a while, but he only wanted to use our phone. If we’d understood his predilections, he would have left in an ambulance. And then there were lawyers. One or more were very fine artists. If you cruise the dealer rooms during the March Great Falls auctions, you’ll be able to find some, often men of dignity and perception. Sometimes not.

It’s tough to live with an artist, whatever the orientation of their desire, and often it is only rich or charismatic artists who attract lovers in any committed way. But I would suggest that there is a portion of the infrastructure of Western Art that is definitively gay in a way of its own: aesthetically, commercially, and as a point of focus in a floating world, especially in this era of auction-based art rendezvousing involving hotels. “Nomadism,” would the Deleuzeguattarian theorists say. For some it is the chance encounters, the planned-but-brief reunions, and the uncertain future that is the essence of relationship. But for others it is the secret knowledge, the coded signals, the sense of being the ones who know, that is the reward and this melds very well with being an art dealer. Hotbeds for wheeling and dealing. They often strike up arrangements with stylish or motherly women, rather like Parisian couturiers with their muses. Someone to hold the fort.

Secret bonds created in one context can affect another, the way an unseen rock in a stream creates patterns in the water. Funding, exhibits, contacts, agents, patrons, written comment and galleries affect the lives (which means the works) of artists of all kinds. It was as true for Leonardo, Michelangelo and Caravaggio as it is today.

“Nomadism” is a source and result of what Deleuzeguattari call “lines of flight,” points of entry for new ideas that break up old orders. It has been proposed that Jesus made a long trip to India and brought back some of his revolutionary ideas (like compassion) to a relentless Roman Empire. Less controversially, Marco Polo was the bee who pollenated east with west and vice versa. We have all been startled by the migration of fine Chinese artists into the Western art scene, partly mediated by their portraits of the still pre-industrial people of western China, Mongolia. Before that it was the migration of the slick magazine short story illustrators out of Connecticut to fine art easel studios in Texas or Arizona. They brought rich technique to hackneyed subjects.

It may be time to open up Western art by introducing -- or rather, revealing -- the gay infrastructure and connections. I’m NOT talking about images of cowboys making love. I AM talking about a new sensibility, a new awareness. a new place for everyone. The life of the single traveling man can be very lonely, but it can also be rich with insight. We have too many repetitions of work that has already been done, not enough discussion of the true nature of people sharing a vast windswept, arid region of the planet full of endangered wild species and transplanted domestic animals. We seem unable to leave the 19th century.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


One of the intriguing and problematic features of the water developments in Montana is the diversion canal and siphon that changes the destination of the Milk River, which arises pretty much in Glacier Park, from going north into Alberta and makes it travel along on the south side of the Canada/Montana border. This water has made it possible for a line of small towns to develop in country otherwise too arid for farming. It’s so old that it’s deteriorating and the small towns must either shutter themselves or find a way to repair it.

A mini-version of this has developed at one point along the piped water-course, a leak has developed that has now been exploited by plants and animals until it has formed a small and pleasant ecology, the way any natural spring would. If the pipe is repaired, that little community will be destroyed. But this is just a parable.

Auctions bring in people with money. Around here we know that water is the same as money. An ecology of art auctions has sprung up in Great Falls around the annual celebratory auction on Charlie Russell’s birthday in mid-March. In the early Sixties Van Kirke Nelson had tried to establish such an auction in Spokane through Father Schoenberg’s work to establish “MONAC,” the Museum of Native American Culture in Spokane. (See “Indians, Cowboys and Western Art: A History of MONAC” privately printed by Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J., 1981.) For whatever reasons, the auction collapsed, so did MONAC and, tragically, Father Schoenberg.

Beginning as a benefit for the small museum of minor Russell works the artist’s librarian friend had collected, after forty years of successful auctions the C.M. Russell Museum has grown to a city block of grounds that includes the Russell home, Charlie’s log studio, and a massive structure. Not only that, the original local gala event in the Rainbow Hotel, now a retirement home, burgeoned into a whole complex of vaguely related auctions and shows: the Indians are back with their own event, the accoutrement people show guns and so on, the women artists have a show, the local artists show together, and two major galleries clean out their back rooms with an unjuried auction ("March in Montana") that includes on-line bidding, as does the Russell Auction. The pipeline was gushing. Rich people flew in from back East. They say during that week there is a whole row of Lear Jets up at the airport.

But other dynamics took hold. The board of the CMR museum had been local people with a few wheeler-dealers protecting their interests. Now the bigtime national high-rollers came in. The board was split into two boards: one the money people who were endowing the museum and the other the local people who felt invested, including Bob Scriver -- sworn enemy of Nelson. Across the country millionaire collectors were endowing a network of fine museums featuring Western art. The biggest is still the Buffalo Bill Historical Center which consolidated different interests into one complex, earning it the nickname “The Smithsonian of the West.” Even in Great Falls, a town of less than 100,000, there are multiple museums: one for Lewis and Clark, one for modern art work, one for local history, one for children, and that’s not even counting the small cowboy museum. The fact that the CMR building was so grand meant that maintaining it was expensive and more high-powered staff was vital. The need to stage major shows thinned the always permeable membrane between profit-making galleries and more protective museums.

One of the most energetic developments in terms of the annual auction, which the museum came to see as an entitlement they could count on, was due to the structure offered by the auction events happening in a motel, convention-style. Motel management was inspired to offer the motel rooms as individual galleries, removing all the furniture to huge vans in the parking lots. It took heroic effort, but the result was a kind of artists’ rendezvous at which a person could go through the halls surveying the year’s innovations and developments among the art community, meeting and greeting old friends, and making new contacts. Artists began to come a distance, some of them with works so monumental they had to remain on trailers in the parking lot. It was great stuff and the whole community was aware if not involved.

Last year proceeds of the Ad Club Auction sank from the high of $421,280 a few years ago to $120,829. Most people blamed the depression. Others looked around the seminars with their dwindling and white-haired audiences and noted that the Ad Club is a young person’s game. Others said that Western art had become too much of a muchness, something like Scottsdale where cowboy art spills out of gallery after gallery. Where was the new insight? What did this have to do with contemporary life? Maybe Charlie had been done to death.

The consequence was splitting the Auction in half -- or doubling it -- depending on how you look at it. Now it appears that the CMR Museum version has netted $605,473. The Ad Club is not saying much except that they did all right. They have not said where the profits will be sent. Some snakebit unidentified persons suggested that if the CMR Museum had put in as much effort on behalf of the Ad Club in previous years, the original Auction might not have struggled.

But the real damage was suffered by the artists in their individual room/galleries. Though it was nice to have elbow-room and a slightly less feverish atmosphere, some artists found auction bids were low and they made fewer sales independently. Customer traffic was scattered all over town instead of concentrated in one spot. I don’t know how many Lear Jets brought in big bankrolls or how many bids were Internet. I’m not sure anyone could or should try to figure out the total of what individual artists made, though everyone is quick to publicize high amounts achieved by individual painters. It’s the possibility of “winning the lottery” that brings in the tickets.

The whole complex is an ecology, one small thing enmeshed with another to amount to something big. The public mostly sees a surface, not the global forces at work, which are as important to the auction complex as the annual snowpack in the Rockies is to the High Line water supply.

"BRONZE INSIDE AND OUT:" Review by Tom Nygard

Thursday, May 06, 2010
My publisher at the U of Calgary Press surprised me with the news that a review of “Bronze Inside and Out” had been published by “Montana, the Magazine of Western Literature” in the Spring Issue. I was very pleased to see that it was written by Thomas Nygard, of Nygard Gallery in Bozeman, Montana, probably the best if not the only truly educated gallery owner in the state, at least when it comes to representational art of the West. I’ve been visiting it since my circuit-riding days took me to Bozeman every other week in the Eighties. We’ve both “morphed” a little over the years, but not unrecognizably.

Nygard shows his perception by taking a sword to the memoir/biography controversy. He simply calls “Bronze Inside and Out,” an expose´ which is accurate. It’s always rewarding when someone “catches your drift.” So I called him up and we had a good talk. I discover he’s on the boards of BOTH the Montana Historical Society and the CM Russell Museum. What I like most about the internet is that the ends of the tentacles reach out and reach out until they touch someone else’s tentativities and suddenly a new set of ideas come into focus.

The problem with representational Western art (okay, ONE of the problems) is that the only way to know what goes on is to have a window behind the scenes. Art is presentation as much as creation -- and I include writing. The most difficult thing in writing or running a gallery is to see work with new eyes, as it really is or has never been seen before, which might be the same. The enormous impact of the Chinese academy-trained artists like Mian Situ has been due to this: the loveliness of their technique framing the brutality of the treatment of the Chinese immigrants of the 19th century. They are expose´s.

Somehow the middlebrow, middleclass consumers of art (often conservative) have claimed Western art and made it a triumphalist scene suitable for hanging over fireplaces in dining rooms. Predictably, sentimentality has diluted, sweetened, and paled what was gut-wrenching, hard core and often fatal. Since the institutions have become invested in this way of thinking, because there is always money in the reassuring Disney and Hallmark approaches to life, they have not thrown their potential searchlights on reality.

Film-making and some kinds of publishing HAVE gone for the nitty-gritty, the reality, the tough-minded. I suspect now that no one has to push back against Bush and Cheney and now that we’ve all been chilled by terrorism, there will be more resistance to the harsh, the taboo, and the violent for fear of provoking more violence. But Bob Scriver’s sculpture was rarely violent, not even in the way that the Animaliers were so fond of predator/prey deadly wrestling matches made into beautiful masses. Bob’s best work, except for the bucking rodeo events which were balletically violent, tended to be moments of poise, balance and reflection. “Lone Cowboy,” “Transition,” “No More Buffalo.” Sad, yes. Even grieving, like his “Pieta.” The violent pieces were almost universally commissioned by someone else. (“Price of a Scalp” was commissioned by George Montgomery.)

I do not think this was because Bob was a peaceful man. In fact, he seethed with rage and was often violent, esp in his early years. It was frustration, determination to drive on through to goals . . . I do not blame him. Art was his refuge and restoration. I think Tom Nygard “gets it.”


Mary Strachan Scriver’s “Bronze Inside and Out” is a focused and thoughtful appraisal of the life of the sculptor Robert MacFie Scriver. Up until his death in 1999, Bob Scriver was a mainstay of the western art world as well as the on-again-off-again pride of Browning, Montana. His legacy is preserved there and at the Montana Historical Society where his lifework is housed. It is also preserved in the pages of Mary Strachan Scriver’s expose´ on the life of her ex-husband. Married to Bob Scriver almost exactly four years, she spent a decade or more in his company. Her firsthand account of his life offers a unique view of this Montana treasure through the eyes of someone who knew him intimately and obviously loved and admired him.

“Bronze Inside and Out” relates profound and heartfelt and humorous remembrances alike. For example, the author tells how one day, “Dick Flood came in with a Russell bear he had bought. ‘This is the most fabulous bear ever made,’ he said. ‘Just look at how wonderful it is. NO ONE else could make a bear as good as this one.’ and he looked at Bob significantly. That was at lunch. Flood took his bear and went off to make his salesman’s round. Bob, aggravated by Flood’s tone (as was probably intended) grabbed some plastilene and began to model. In a short time he had a bear exactly like the Russell bear. At supper he flaunted it in front of Dick. ‘NO ONE, huh? How do you like this bear?’

“Flood liked it. ‘How much?’

“Bob took the bear out of Flood’s hands and began to twist it. ‘Russell wasn’t so very damn terrific! The nose is too big, the gait is wrong . . .’ He made corrections to suit his own notion, while Flood blanched and could hardly keep from grabbing at it to prevent the changes. ‘Now THIS is a good bear!’

“’How much?’

“‘I won’t sell it to you.’ Bob enjoyed teasing such operators as much as Picasso did by drawing in the wet sand when the tide was coming in or drawing in the dust on dealers’ cars when he knew the drive back to town would destroy the picture.” (p. 112)

“Bronze Inside and Out” is warm and often enchanting. It conveys a sense of life and times of this bronze artist that other writers looking in from the outside simply cannot capture. It is full of the kind of western lore that is routinely overlooked in today’s ever faster-paced society and contains detailed passages that provide a portrait of a mid-twentieth-century art world. Mary Scriver’s insightful portrayal of Bob’s work is, for the art historian and student of Montana history, an accounting that demands reading.

Tom Nygard
Bozeman, Montana

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Manitou Galleries and Coeur d’Alene Art Auction (
Catalog at

This is a commercial gallery auction that does not give money to any charity, including the CM Russell Museum. However, the owners of these galleries overlap with important people at the CM Russell Museum. The present director of the museum was previously the owner of a private gallery.


#128 “Friend or Foe” 11 of 50, 14”x6.5”x5,” est. $1,200-1,500
On the prairie there were considerable protocols for deciding how to react to strangers. For instance, if a tribe from out of the region wanted to hunt buffalo on Blackfeet territory, they would send a person to sit within sight but some distance away from the village. An envoy would come from the village to guide that person down to the head people for a parlay. If the leaders were feeling liberal and there were lots of buffalo or they knew the outside tribe was hungry, they would give permission. If the messenger hit them when they were sore from outsiders killing them or starving themselves, the messenger might be lucky to take his message back to his people.

#130 “Charlie” (bust) (1973) 4 of ?, 5”x6”x4,” est. $500 - 900
This would have been cut from the second or third standing figure of Charlie Russell that Bob did.

#152 “Red Fox” 182 of 250, 4.5”x4.5”x4,” est. $200 - 400
We often had pet foxes in the household but they always ran away as soon as they were mature, intent on starting their own families.

#153 “Steer” (1974) 181 of 250, 3.5”x7”x4,” est. $200 - 400
Especially in the summer Bob always tried to keep on hand small bronzes within the means of admirers without major resources. Some of the earliest figures he ever made were lying down livestock, because it’s hard to make legs and they are fragile.

#188 “Running Caribou” (AKA “Winter King”) (1956) 24”x23”x6.5,” est. $3,000 - 4,000
This was a maquette from the transition period between taxidermy and sculpture when Bob was collecting one of each major game animal in Montana. The caribou, which were up by Yaak, withdrew north because of climate change, so he never did manage to get one.

#189 “Captain Lewis and Our Dog Scannon” (Dog’s name later corrected to Seaman.)
3 of 150, Arrowhead Foundry cast, 10”x12”x11, $2500 - 3500
This would be part of a small set of bronzes that came out of the big Lewis & Clark monuments in Fort Benton and Great Falls. Lewis had truly lousy handwriting, almost as bad as his spelling, so the dog’s name was in question for a while.

#378 “Trophy Rams” (1960) #4, Big Horn Foundry cast, 20”x16”x13,” est. $3,000 - 5,000
Again, this is from the overlap between taxidermy and bronze. It was meant to be educational for hunters. The legality of shoting bighorns is determined by the amount of horn they are carrying. The bottom ram is legal. The middle ram is nice. The top ram is truly a trophy, majestically full-curl.

#503 “The Winchester Rider” (1979), Big Horn Foundry cast, 150/250, 18”x21”x11, est. $10,000 - 15,000
This was commercially commissioned and advertised, which explains the higher price. The Big Horn Foundry was Scriver’s own, which adds to the value.

#557 “1861 Mail” (1991) 46 of 100, 15”x12”x9.” est. $2,000 - 3,000
Bob loved a series. This goes with the “Pony Express.” He turned out many horse and rider pairs of various periods and vocations and enjoyed the research.

#558 “On the Trap Line” (1977) 18 of 100, 14”x9”x7.5,” est. $3,000 - 4,000
Parallel with his taxidermy business Bob was a fur-buyer. He had learned the business while in Edmonton, visiting the big fur-trading convocation there and working for a mink rancher. Trappers in Blackfeet country were regular visitors to the studio all winter.

#559 “4 o’Clock in the Morning” (1961), 1 of 24 in the first edition, 9”x17”x7,” est. $4,000 - 5,000
This is Playboy, the same horse that posed for “Lone Cowboy.” The two pieces form a very nice pair. Playboy cringed away from the saddle in just this way. It is curious that all the #1 castings of Bob’s work were kept by himself, which means that this bronze ought to be cached away with the rest of his estate at the Montana Historical Society. Ask to see the provenance (the chain of ownership) since casting. I would have helped to cast and patine this bronze.

#560 “A New Camp” (1995), 33 of 50, 15”x25”x11,” est. $4,000 - 6,000
A procession bronze from late in Bob’s career.


#323 “Ready for Battle” 32 of 150, 14”x14”x6.5,” est.$2500 - 3500, sold for $2,006
This elk is swollen with lust and picking fights with every other male elk as he gathers his harem. He will be bugling, fasting, and dangerous.

#324 “Part of the Job” 100 of 250, 15”x12.5”x6.5”, est. $3,000 - 4,000, not sold.
A nice portrait of a cowboy. I don’t know whether it’s meant to be a specific person.

#326 “When One Shot’s Enough” (1977) 38 of 40, 10.5”x14.5”x11.5,” est. $3500-4500, sold for $2950
This is a group “story” bronze full of diagonals and curves. Note the tails that slash out into space.

#327 “The Signal Glass” 32 of 100, 22.5”x18”x16.5,” est. $8,000 - 10,000, not sold.
Heliographs work well on the prairie if there is a high spot to signal or watch from. This triangular arrangement is full of small diagonals (the legs) to suggest stability and waiting, but contained action which will be released when the signal comes.

#477 “Budding Buckaroo.” 48 of 150, 11”x22”x10, est. $4,000 to 5,000. not sold.
A sweet little portrait of a boy luring a horse with an apple.

#480 “The Dakota Bull” 35 of 48, 7.5”x10”x4.5,” est. $2,000 to 3500. Sold for $1770
Very nice portrait. The bulls from the Niobrara Federal Bison Range are occasionally brought in to improve the genetics of the Moiese Bison Range.

#481 “Headin’ Out” 104 of 250, 12”x12”x8,” est. $5,500 - 7500. Sold for 5130
A horseback hunter has made his quota and is headed for home. The slanted base means that the group has tension, the animals showing exertion.

#570 Group of three bronzes. “Northfork Wolves,” 32 of 200, 9”x10”x6.5;” “Middle Fork Grizzly” 32 of 200, 8.25”x9”x5.5”; "South Fork Spring" (Elk) 32 of 200. 8.5”x10”x7”. As a set est. $3500 -4500. Not sold.
Meant for collectors, this is a sort of indicator of the area on the west side of Glacier Park.

#574 “Enemy Tracks” (Known here as “Following the Trail”) #10. 16”x14”x10”. est. $5500 - 7500. Sold for $3540.
This sculpture was originally commissioned by George Montgomery about 1960. The idea is that the scouts are tracking a cavalry man whose empty canteen is on the ground among the cactus. I made some of the cactus.

#575 “The Fast Blanket” (1978) #2, 18”x10”x9”, est. $5,000-7,000 Sold for $4,130
Another form of long-distance communication was blanket-signalling, a kind of semaphore. No smoke involved. I suppose a “fast” moving blanket signaled urgency.


#189 “Calf in the Way” (1981) 13 of 150, 22”x19”, est. $3,000 - 5000
A story group that repeats a tale often told with cattle.


#17 “Budding Buckaroo” (1993) 12 of 150, 12”x22”x8,” est. $2500 - 3000
A “cute” little story vignette.

#22 “CM Russell, The Cowboy Artist” (1977) 6 of 100, 17.25”x7.25”x5.5,” est.$4000 - 6000
This is the “bust” separated from the full figure. Bob did three full figures: the original one for the contest in the Fifties, a corrected version he did in the Sixties after his skills improved, and the one that became the monumental bronze outside the CMR Museum. I can’t tell which figure this bust was cut from until I can compare in reality.

#35 “Counting Coup” (1990) 98 of 175, 17”x14”x8,” est. $2500- 3000
“Price of a Scalp” was an early version of this sort of conflict. It was commissioned by George Montgomery in the late Fifties and the edition was small. This one is more merciful, since “counting coup” means making a blow with killing. The Blackfeet family called "Ground" today is descended from a warrior called "Jumps to the Ground," because he preferred to fight on foot. Others wanted the advantage of the horseman.

#75 “King of the Marsh” (1966) 82 of 150, 11”x11”x6,” est. $2500 - 3500
This is a beautiful small moose, much influenced by a Rungius moose sculpture that Bob owned. Rungius was one of his primary influences.

#108 “Moving On” (1995) 2 of 50, 17”x17”x10,” $5,000-7,000
A story procession made late in life and also sold in sections. It is ethnographically accurate right down to the type of horse and dog but is not so elaborate as the portraits with a lot of war or ceremonial gear.

Friday, March 05, 2010



This is a cross between “aggregation” and “curation.” That is, I’m going to list and discuss all the bronzes by Bob Scriver in each of three auctions to be presented in Great Falls over the weekend of March 20, 21, and 22. I’m drawing on their online “catalogs” which are also available from them as printed books. If the websites include past auctions, I’m listing those bronzes as well. I have never seen any of the many hydrocal castings we sold show up in an auction. They are durable if left in place but probably would be damaged by the kind of shifting, storing, and shipping necessary for auctions.

Today’s list is from the classic CM Russell Auction that was previously always a benefit auction for the Charles M. Russell Museum.


#16: “War Prize” Casting 189 of 210. 14.5”x4”x8”
A warrior holds a rifle high overhead. I can’t see what kind of gun it is, but I suspect it might be a Hawken, which Bob was especially fond of and which is an excellent steady and accurate long-distance rifle. Great for buffalo hunting when one wants to shoot from a distance, dropping a group one by one. This a later piece and begins to show a strange “Giacometti” effect on Bob’s figures, which became very small-headed and thin-armed, perhaps the effect of strokes on his perception. By this time he was no longer using calipers except on portraits.

#66 “The White Flags” Casting 3 of 125 16”x14”x1”
A beautiful grouping of whitetail deer, famous for their big white tails which wag behind them when they flee. From the angle pictured, it’s easy to see the Rungius theory of composition, which was based on an X to show action. Bob’s animals never lost their accuracy and he never lost his love for them, which was his first kind of sculpture. The casting looks quite smooth and the patina quite light. Later castings were mostly done by ceramic shell foundries which end up with a smooth surface. This smooth/light patina can look disturbingly like plastic.

#87 “A New Camp” Casting 3 of 50. 11.75”x8”x24”
This is a simpler version of a later series of horse/rider/dog pieces. A woman rides the horse which pulls a travois and is followed by a dog. She has a baby on her back.

#141 “CM Russell, the Cowboy Artist” Casting 6 of 35. 24”x10.5”x7 3/8”
A small version of the portrait of Russell at the Russell Museum, probably meant for sale to pay for the big monumental-sized emplacement. Portraits of Russell haunted Bob because his entry in the 1960 competition which he lost but which provided him the impetus and connections necessary to start his career.

#245 “Winter King” Casting 49 of 110 24”x10x23”
From the original series of maquettes meant to guide full-mounts of all the game animals in Montana for the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife, now dispersed. The caribou occupied the extreme NW corner of the state near Yaak where a bit of rain forest is far enough north to have moss good for them to eat. Climate change has eliminated them Bob never acquired a caribou to mount. This figure was created in the Fifties and is classic Scriver animal portraiture.

#246 “Moon of the Yellow Leaves” Casting 8 of 125. 14”x17”x9”
This elk group echoes the group of whitetail deer. It is again composed around a dynamic diagonal line though the animals are simply standing in alert. That spike bull at the bottom of the group won’t be around much longer. Technically, the casting appears smooth, like a ceramic-shell casting. Actually, Scriver made all his animals smooth in the early years and was criticized for it.


#51 “Moving On” Casting 44 of 50. 14.5”x33.5”x8” Sold for $5,000.
This procession represents a family group. The casting called “A New Camp” is the rear half of this sculpture, minus the colt, and I suppose the front half was also sold separately. Lines of figures are appealing to buyers who want to put sculpture on a fireplace mantel or in silhouette against a window. This is sort of an Indian version of a pack string.

#52 “Race to the Rendezvous” Casting 52 of 75 14”x22”x95” Sold for $3,500
Here’s another action piece full of slant lines. It is a story and I’d bet that rifle is a Hawken. Scriver undoubtedly made a small mold specifically to produce them to scale. Collectors of Western bronzes tend to group by subject matter, so here’s one for the mountain men.

#110 “Too Late for the Hawken” Casting 19 of 50. 23”x30”x24” Sold for $7,000
This time the mountain man has been surprised by a warrior, but the principles are the same as the bronze above. This looks more like a typical Scriver patina which was influenced by the French Animaliers we saw in New York City in 1965 when Bob was on “To Tell the Truth.”

#125 “The Holy Woman” Casting 6 of 40. 13.5x23x10 Sold for $2,000.
Another horse-and-travois piece, but this one is based on Agnes Mad Plume who always wore her Horn Society headdress in the North American Indian Days Parade in the early days when the whole event put much more emphasis on the Old Days. Her daughter has kept up the tradition.

#138 “Ready for Battle” Casting 69 of 150. 13”x11”x6” Sold for $2,000
This bull elk is “in rut”, aroused, starving, his neck thickened by hormones, bugling to announce his potency. They are easy to call when in this state and Bob loved to do it. One evening, a little too dark, we called one nearly nose-to-nose. They don’t taste good when in rut, so calling one means trophy hunting. We didn’t even take a gun along.

#170 “The Spotted Colt” Casting 100 of 100. 11”x14”x6.5” Sold for $2,500
Another “going along” story group: a mare with her colt, a woman with her children. The “spotted” is a reference to Appaloosa horses.

#171 “Silence is Safety” Casting 21 of 150. 12.5”x15x7” Sold for $2,000
A story piece about a warrior and his horse, which is a exceptionally nice one. The accouterments will be of interest to some collectors. This warrior is not quite so Giacometti/basketball player as some of the others. The slight hill gives the triangular composition a little dynamism.


#24 “The Outfitter” Casting 18 of 40. 13”x9”x4” Sold for $2,500
A simple portrait of a hunting outfitter on his horse, alert and experienced. It might be based on an actual person. The chaps imply riding in brush or trees, since they are meant to protect one’s legs.

#126 “Counting Coup” Casting 62 of 175. Sold for $6.500
The first sculpture on this theme was commissioned by George Montgomery and in that one the man on the ground is simultaneously killing the man on the horse. Counting coup doesn’t mean that the man on the ground will be killed, only that the opportunity was there.

#173 “New Camp” Casting 5 of 50. Sold for $6,000
See remarks for the same sculpture in 2010. #87 in that catalogue.


#28 “Budding Buckaroo” Casting 54 of 150. Sold for $3,500.
A little boy with a rope offering an apple to a colt.

#83 “White Flags” Casting 102 of 125. 16”x14.5”x11” Sold for $4,500
See remarks for the same sculpture in 2010, catalogue #66.

#178 “Sky Climbers” Casting 7 of 10. 20”x25.5”x15 Sold for $6,000
In 1965 Bob created a smaller version of this idea, calling it “Into the Wind.” It proved very popular and by now many artists have created groups of waterfowl landing. This is a relatively early piece so was probably cast in Bob’s own Big Horn Foundry. The small limit on the number of castings also makes it more valuable.

#225 “Moon of Yellow Leaves” Casting 102 of 125. 14”x17”x9” $5,000
See remarks on the 2010 list, catalogue #246

#264 “Too Late for the Hawken” Casting 45 of 50. 223”x30x24. Not sold.
See remarks on the 2090 list, catalogue #110


Most of these pieces were produced late in Scriver’s career and were much influenced by entrepreneurs suggesting what would sell. Some of them commissioned pieces and bought the copyright along with the original so they could cast them. They planned large editions which reduces the value and castings were ceramic shell process which also makes them less valuable. “Winter King” and “Sky Climbers” were earlier.

What I’m saying is that though these bronzes are appealing, they are the low end of the Scriver range of a thousand bronzes so the prices are lesser. None of the big rodeo pieces are here -- in fact, no rodeo pieces at all, maybe because the jury felt they didn’t relate to Charlie Russell. There are a few of the bigger, more significant bronzes cast in the Bighorn Foundry moving around out there, but not many. People are holding onto them or they are moving privately through galleries.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


The Western Art season starts north and works its way south for some counter-intuitive reason, probably because Charlie Russell’s birthday, which was the original inspiration for the CMR Auction, falls on March 19, 1864. The auction began as the inspiration of the Great Falls Ad Club, particularly its spearhead personality Norma Ashby. The thing grew and grew until the little corner building that once sheltered the collection of personal objects owned by a little old lady librarian fan of Charlie’s had become one of the swarm of massive Western art institutions across the USA. Now the institution is a huge building, very expensive to maintain, and really NEEDS the auction.

The most recent development is the split of the auction into two parts. (This is not the same as the half-dozen me-too satellite shows and auctions.) Eric Newhouse writes in the Great Falls Tribune of January 20, that “Both of the art auctions named for famed cowboy artist C.M. Russell introduced their catalogs electronically this week with each presenting a wide range of artwork.” You can access both through the newspaper:, then click on the Western Art Week icon, which is a buffalo skull. Or you can enter for the “new” auction or for the "old" one.

Eric’s story emphasizes that there is an assortment of good art at each location, and I’m willing to believe that except that radical difference in the software of the two locations rather complicates the matter. The Museum Art Auction program works smoothly, one piece of art following the next quickly. (I’m on Mac OSX 10.3.9.) The Ad Club Auction program is slow, balky, doesn’t show pictures, and is full of bugs. This is not new. And the difference is a quick computer demonstration of what is going on. The short version is that the Museum is the Big Boys of Western Art with major resources and the Ad Club is working with volunteer amateurs locally. The latter might be more lovable, but the former is far more powerful.

Eric reports, “The museum’s events will begin with a wall art sale and reception from 5 to 8 PM Thursday, March 18.” The paintings are hung and lit, I presume, which saves all those girls in high heels from having to stagger down the catwalk with them.

“Thirteen of the pieces will go to the highest bidder above a set minimum, opening with a Russell watercolor/pen and ink, “Happy New Year Greeting,” which starts at $90,000.

“There’s also a 25-inch-30-inch oil on canvas, “Canyon del Muerto -- Coronado Rock,” by Maynard Dixon that has a minimum asking price of $750.000, and there’s an oil on board, “Archer Beside a Lake,” by Eanger Irving Couse that requires at least $100,000 s an opening bid. Among the 13 sealed-bid pieces of art are four other Dixons. . .

“The remainder of the 132 pieces in the fixed wall sale have set prices. . .

“Among the pieces are a mixed media on canvas, “Winter Kill Shaker” by Oleg Stavrowsky for $65,000, an oil on canvas, “Montana Morning,” by Gary Lynn Roberts for $30,000; an oil, “Bargaining for a Bride,” by Steve Seltzer for $18,500; and an oil on canvas tepee, “L’Avocet,” by Tom Gilleon for $15,000.”

The second auction is at the museum from 11AM until 2PM on Saturday. “Among the highlights of that show will be “Ah Wah Cous,” a 60”X60” oil by Gilleon that features Russell among Indians -- it’s valued at $65,000 to $75,000.

“A pen and ink by Russell, “The Medicine Man No. 3” is estimated at $80,000 to $85,000.

“A big oil by Roberts, “The Scouts,” is valued at $25,000 to $30,000, while another big oil by Andy Thomas, “Stampede Stampede!” is pegged at $52,000 to $58,000. Charlie Fritz adds another big oil, “Emerging from a Storm -- the Packet Benton on the Upper Missouri River,” which is estimated at $14,000 to $15,000.”

On the Ad Club side, the list includes:

Several small Russell Bronzes.
O.C. Seltzer 18”X22” oil, “The Mad Cow”
Several unspecified paintings by Steve Seltzer, Bob Morgan and Ace Powell (including a 20”X30” painting called “Prairie Powwow”).
Gary Lynn Thomas: 30”X45” oil, “Ambush on the Bandit Trail” and 24”X36” oil, “Pride.”
Tom Gilleon: 30”X30” oil, “Mountain Crow Horses.” (Eric says it’s an “iconoclastic tepee” which is a slip. Gilleon’s tepees are actually ICONIC, simplified and idealized images.)
Larry Zabel: 30”X40” acrylic “The Buckskin”
Tara Moore: “Roping Duo and “Hold Your Horses” (no sizes given)
Carol Hagen: “Don’t Mess with Momma” and “Brown Noser”
Sherry Salari Sander: 38”X18” bronze, “Horses of the Mountain.”
“Art by many newcomers.”

Alert onlookers could have spotted developments as soon as B. Byron Price showed up with his CMR Catalogue Raisonee. Over the last decade he has managed to encircle and dominate CMR matters. Here is his bio from the University of Oklahoma website:

“B. Byron Price currently holds the Charles Marion Russell Memorial Chair and is Director of Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West [funded by Nancy Russell’s estate] at the University of Oklahoma. He is a 1970 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and earned an MA in Museum Science at Texas Tech University in 1977. [plus a quick one-year art degree.]

“Before taking his current position, Price spent nearly 25 years in the museum profession. He served as executive director of the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas (1982-1986); the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City (1987-1996); and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming (1996-2001).

“Price is the author of more than three dozen journal articles on western American history and art and has written several books including Fine Art of the West (2004); The Chuck Wagon Cook Book: Recipes from the Ranch and Range for Today’s Kitchen (2004); Cowboys of the American West (1996) and Erwin E. Smith: Cowboy Photographer (1997). Price is currently editing the Charles M. Russell catalog raisonnĂ©.

“In addition to his published works, he has served as a consultant for several television series on the History and Discovery Channels, most recently: Unsolved History:The Gunfight at the OK Corral and Cowboy Tech.

“In August 2007, Price also became the Director of the University of Oklahoma Press.”

Put the photo of his “mini-me” Darrell Beauchamp [formerly the owner of an art gallery] next to the photo of B. Byron Price. They represent a particular kind of enthusiast of Western matters: the cavalry side.

REMINGTON VS. RUSSELL -- And Who's Monkman?

Charlie Russell wasn’t that fond of cavalry. His thing was Indians. After all, the family branch called the Bents (see the excellent biography called “Half-Breed”), famous for their trading fort rather than any war fort, included Indians. Charlie loved to dress up as an Indian, not a cavalryman, and it was not to mock Indians that he hung out with them as much as he could. Remington was the guy who loved cavalry, though horses groaned when they saw his size. (Anne Morand, the curator at the CM Russell Museum, made her reputation as an expert on Remington, esp. a brilliant show organizing together Remington’s night paintings.)

Genetics as a way of sorting makes less sense when dealing with so-called Western art than dividing them between Remington-types and Russell-types. Remington-types are from back east, more invested in class and education, and more aligned with the cavalry/Republican/manifest-destiny sympathies. Russell was more like James Willard Schultz, an Indian wannabe, and it is surprising that Charlie didn’t marry an Indian. He did romance a few. I would suggest that Nancy Russell was a Remington-type, if not a Mrs. Custer, who saw the route to a comfortable life as through sales in the east. Nancy was right, but she had to nearly lock Charlie up.

Remington had a shadow, an artist whose work was close enough to be easily mistaken for Remington’s, except that Charlie was pretty good friends with his own painter/shadow, O.C. Seltzer, and Remington was NOT happy about Schreyvogel. The back-east art experts have not much picked up on Schreyvogel, who was around this country in the early twentieth century, about the same time as Sharp and others. He stayed in Blackfoot, Montana, and left paintings behind him which were mostly burned when the former station agent, Mr. Carberry, had a house fire. It killed and consumed Mr. C. as well, but not his daughter who sometimes babysat Bob Scriver. It’s odd that nothing has been made of Schrevogel since Bob and I saw his studio contents at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in the Sixties, complete with an oil 8” X 10” view of the Rockies from Browning. Those were the Dean Krakel visionary years when the focus was not so much on profit and prestige.

The best overview of the Northern Plains Western artists is still Dale Burk’s “New Interpretations,” unless you’re looking for insight into politics, in which case Father Schoenberg’s account of the founding of MONAC (a museum dedicated to Indian art and attached somehow to Gonzaga University, but which collapsed after a couple of decades) is instructive. I will not summarize for fear of libel suits. Father Schoenberg is dead. Others involved are not. Dale Burk is still alive and publishing but doesn’t write about art anymore.

The “marker” artist for the northern plains is not a cowboy artist, but rather Carl Rungius, whose studio was in Banff. He painted scenery and animals, which have escaped politics until recently when environmental concerns heated up. Rungius is dead. But Russell Chatham is another good scenery “marker” artist (he’s alive, born on the same day as myself). Winold Reiss is another northern plains artist who has been somewhat lifted up but he’s a portrait artist, not an action painter. Cowboy art aficionadoes want action, someone being killed.

But they will NOT want Kent Monkman’s idea of action, or rather “post” action. QUOTE: "The Romantic tradition of westward expansion and colonial nation-building is radically revised by the artist Ken Monkman in his fantastic vision of idyllic free-for-all pioneer orgies, flamboyant performance personas and other high-spirited interventions into historical mythology." See A show of his work is just opening in Calgary. From his website: “Kent Monkman is an artist of Cree ancestry who works in a variety of media including painting, film/video, performance and installation. Monkman has exhibited widely within Canada, and is well represented in numerous private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, UK, and Bailey Fine Arts, Toronto.” The show is “ The Triumph of Mischief,” (solo), Glenbow Museum, Calgary, February 13 – April 25, 2010.
He’s painting Moran landscapes with NA warriors lolling along the edge of the lake among the bodies of their cavalry victims (US, not RCMP). The Indians are identified as “Achilles and Patroclus” who are figures at the heart of the Trojan War. Consult Brad Pitt rather than the condom company.

Take a look. No feathers. Not even a feather boa. (He’s gay.) His painting of a boudoir of a berdache features a French reclining couch, a bison hide rug, expensive luggage, and the kind of crystal chandelier once beloved of R. C. Gorman. (Do not ask anyone associated with either of the two Charlie Russell auctions about R. C. Gorman, though they are experts on the SW, where his studio was in Taos.)

Monkman’s version of the “End of the Trail,” centerpiece of the Cowboy Hall of Fame, is reinterpreted via the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, in which a skillful sculptor creates a statue of a young woman so beautiful that he falls in love with it. (“My Fair Lady.”) In sympathy for him, the gods bring her to life. In this case, the curly-headed sculptor is on tiptoe to kiss the Indian on his exhausted horse and the Indian has come to life.

The significance in terms of this blog post is that the show, both intellectual and socially avant garde, is in Calgary -- the northern plains. Great Falls has become an outpost of the SW. It was already a cavalry post, if you think about Malmstrom. Charlie would have laughed. Remington -- who once painted a cavalryman wearing a lady’s sunbonnet -- would have looked away, blushing.

Nancy Russell had no time for such nonsense. What counted to her was the money, honey, and if it hadn’t been for her, Charlie might have starved among his friends, who sometimes starved themselves. At least the friends he picked out himself because you can’t really count customers. The whole nation is Nancy Russell Country now. We’re all just buying and selling.

Monkman is an entirely new type, a metis in several ways, classically educated, as skillful as the new Chinese-taught painters, with the sharp satirical edge of the supposed outsider, who is now an insider. His warrior heroes wear no uniforms (they don’t wear much of anything); their allegiance is to their human relationships. Come to think about it, that’s sorta like Charlie.

Friday, January 08, 2010


My knowledge of Western art is about a half-century of direct experience plus a lot of talking and reading. Since moving back to Valier in the last decade I’ve seen more change than in the previous forty years.

1. The internet has transformed everything. What was a small local auction in Great Falls has multiplied into a cluster of varied but peripherally related auctions and shows: one of secondary “gray” sales meant to move art and artifacts not acceptable to the curated auction; one of Indians; one of women; one of guns; and so on. Now the original auction has split down the middle with results no one can predict yet. (A few more months: this is a March event.) There are new auctions all across the continent around the calendar.

Buyers no longer have to come and look, which curbs impulse sales at the heart of auction. Bidding may be via computer monitor, having already investigated provenance and quality by proxy or online. I was vividly impressed by the man who said he went in to the gun show, looked carefully at them, made a list, and then sat in the parking lot bidding on his mobile phone because he did NOT want people to know what he would be carrying home. Likewise, at auctions there are people who do NOT want to be known and maybe don’t even want a proxy to bid for them. For them secrecy is part of the excitement, not sitting in the audience to see the other bidders.

The values of this artwork are no longer determined by expert dealers and galleries. Websites like are a ticker tape keeping track of previous auction transactions so that one knows what the last bids were on similar art. One sits in the audience with a laptop. This has had various effects on the market. One is that a series of auctions attended by people who dislike a certain artist or just don’t know that work can send values spiraling down. Or the opposite can happen if there’s been a recent article praising the work or a prominent statement by someone important. Many more people are becoming much more aware. Probably some of them are misled by using numbers instead of reality, including informed curators of value. The old idea that it’s better to invest in art, that one can store value in art, has been encouraged by the stock market catastrophe, but others who bought early in the belief that they were acquiring valuable work are now crushed to discover their standards were local. The stuff is merely a curiosity, the artist unknown.

Another dynamic is more scurvy. Individuals with capital, like professionals, have “invested” by buying up work from starving artists and holding it in warehouses against the day it would be worth lots of money. In the meantime, it was worth their while to hold down the value of the art, at the expense of the artist. Now, the hour for profit may have passed.

2. More than other categories, except perhaps Manhattan-based abstract art of the Fifties and Sixties, the constituency for Western art is aging. (Same thing for Western history and fiction.) The fans of action art showing roping and bar fights or military events tended to be the ages of WWII veterans. Many of the buyers who could pay Charlie Russell’s prices made their money in the original development of natural resources before regulation. The Cowboy Artists of America has lost nearly all its original members and was most grievously injured by the loss of Joe Bieler, who was able to reconcile some strong personalities. At the first CMR Auction, it was possible to recognize people who knew Charlie personally. Not now.

3. The major jump in value of Western art during the last part of the twentieth century has attracted a great many more artists with much more sophisticated training and this has meant both an increase in quality and a shift away from first-hand content. Dealers have redefined “cowboy art,” broadening it to include the first painters to record the West and particularly the very fine landscape painters. VERY fine genre Chinese painters have joined the category. This helps to get the category out of the bunkhouse, but it also means that someone’s naive but earnest depiction of corral events has to hold up against a huge, mystical, elegantly framed, Moran landscape.

4. Other modern technology has allowed the mass production of inexpensive art knockoffs. Even bronze casting is much easier and cheaper when ceramic shell molds are used and the technicians are not particularly well-trained. Asians can duplicate bronzes using cheap artisans outside the reach of copyright. Another example is Giclee prints, which are ballyhoed as much more than what they are: xeroxes. Value is supposed to be added if the artist signs the copy or even adds a few paint strokes. When the prices come down, the subject matter also becomes less grand, more like greeting card subjects meant to appeal to the unsophisticated.

The backside of this is that now it is possible to analyze bronze molecules in a kind of metal DNA and there are many more scientific analyses to perform on dubious paintings. Of course, common sense will never be amiss in a world where simply scissoring the signature off the bottom of a Seltzer transforms it into a Russell worth ten times as much.

5. Developments in the larger world have also affected the Western art genre. De-accessioning has become a huge public controversy, though it has always gone on in a low-grade behind-the-scenes manner. The ethics codes of museum associations forbid the selling of art work in order to maintain the building or pay salaries, but this is exactly how Harold McCracken started the Whitney Gallery of Western Art with paintings from a crumbling local Remington archive. Since then, some institutions have become threshing floors (especially historical societies) where objects that people think have great value are brought in the front door, held for a while, then sold out the back door. Tax structures and exemptions have aggravated this. The laws are now changing. One deaccessioning event was so notorious (Brandeis proposed to close its gallery and sell all the contents) that the issue is now VERY hot.

6. The relationship between donors and patrons and the possibilities for increasing the value of their collections by paying to have them shown in curated institutions so they collect fame and increase value is another little strategy that is being questioned. It has long been a practice in Western art. Some art zines are now running stories on the fabulous collectors, rather than what they collect. There is a thin wall between curators, collectors, and institutional administrators with cross-overs like the Renners or B. Byron Price. There is also a symbiosis between curating and writing, so that an “expert” book on a particular artist can increase its value. But so many glowing accounts of artists have been written, that the value of such books is diminished. Of course, those who control publishing, control artists to some degree and therefore sales of art.