JERRY GOROSKI is the consultant appraisar to whom I refer inquiries about Scriver bronzes. He is formally trained and certified to do assessments and knew Bob Scriver as well as working for the CM Russell Museum in Great Falls. His gallery is called "Open Range Art."


Monday, 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