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, 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.