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."


Friday, December 16, 2011



"Transition," a bronze sculpture by Robert MacFie Scriver, portraying generations of Blackfeet.
It was originally meant to be an heroic-sized (life-size plus one-fifth) monument in Browning.

The best of Bob Scriver’s work is finally coming online in a way we would never have anticipated. He hated computers in general, picked a BIG fight with me when I wanted to put his autobiography (the one he was writing himself on legal pads) on a little all-in-one early Macintosh I was using in Heart Butte. He never would have imagined the Internet. I’m suspecting that this casting (above) was made in the Sixties in our own Bighorn Foundry that we built in the backyard and that probably either Carl Cree Medicine or I patined it.

The early auctions began, rather transparently, as ways to clear out the warehoused art stock of certain persons under the guise of helping the CMR Museum or Indians or some other cause. When they came around to ask Bob to donate a piece of art, he was outraged. (“I’m broke already!!”) But one was frozen out of the buyer “social classes” if one didn’t, because the auction was also an important bonding event for collectors and their supplicants. So he invented the Scriver Buffalo Skull Award, which didn’t cost much to cast and wasn’t going to be affected by the general state of art sales.

Now, of course, everything has changed, but Bob was right to be wary of auctions, because now there are many auctions, the generation that was betting on which artist was going to be the next Charlie Russell is ancient or dead, and there is a Charlie Russell wannabe under every bush, painting away as fast as they can. Aside from that, works go through auctions back east where people know nothing but abstract expressionism or conceptual art and no one knows anything about Charlie -- they have a vague trace memory of Frederic Remington.

In some ways, bronze sculptures have become as much victims of technology as books have been undercut by electronics. Ceramic shell casting is so cheap and easy, with results that are so indistinguishable from fine lost wax casting (except by experts), that everyone casts everything, slaps a store-bought slick-as-plastic patina on it (maybe in COLORS !!), and sells it for trinket prices. Worse, they aren’t very particular what they make molds off of -- copyright or not -- and they aren’t particularly good at making molds.

It gets worse: with laser technology, you can stand a horse in front of a machine and have a computer-recorded exact replica of the horse without the intervention of human judgment at all. Is this art? Is an upside-down urinal art? It’s up to the buyer.

Personally, I think it is worse to have a monument-quality sculpture cast by the artist by the same lost-wax method that Rodin used, go at auction for $800. And worse than that, I resent the work being carelessly described by some racist shallow catalogue maker as a “buck, squaw and papoose.” These are portraits. Chewing Black Bone, the man sitting down, was a dignified ceremonialist, said by some to be the last warrior to have taken a scalp. He was blind, probably from trachoma. In summer he lived in his lodge on the Mad Plume ranch, mending his own moccasins and remembering the old days. He was a friend and informant of James Willard Schultz, who called him “Ahku Pitsu.” I only met him once, early in the Sixties.

Mae Williamson, the woman in the middle, was a dignified and sophisticated woman who was married to a white lawyer. (Later she had other husbands, all Blackfeet.) The dress she is wearing, embellished with the eyeteeth of elk (count’em and see how many elk it took), is worth thousands of dollars. The boy is “Tomorrow.” We’ve lost the name of the boy who posed. Maybe he’ll see this, recognize himself, and tell us how he turned out. He’d be a grandfather by now, fifty years older. None of this is romantic foofoo stuff invented by a Hollywood-hypnotized story spinner. These are just facts.

I complain a good deal about the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel, who try to lock up the value of their own acquisitions by whatever means they can. Wheelin’ and dealin’, we say. In these new phenomena of slice ‘n dice, bring-’em-faster auctions the buyers are often not present (they buy via the internet), no informed persons explain what the context of the pieces are, and everyone is monitoring a ticker-tape website that shows what the artist’s work sold for last time. They are incredibly destructive to the reputation and value of Western American art.

But at least it is not the racist divide that is presently between those who love Western art, Western literature, and Western history because they are essentially a conquerer’s account of the empire of America with a nod to the valor and glamour of the “worthy opponents” -- as opposed to the flipside: real people’s history of previously invisible kinds. (Example: Mian Situ who suddenly makes real the Chinese in the West.) This divide is in all three contexts and it is decimating the organizations devoted to the fields, especially those that include with the amateur aficionadoes some serious academics who have been alert to the re-framing of history by people like Howard Zinn. Young people are now quite different in outlook and opposed to exploitation. It may be that the buckskinners and cavalry re-enactors have smudges of fascistic elitism and triumphalism. The idea makes them so defensive that no one wants to go near the topic.

Right-wingers. God love ‘em. Bob Scriver was among ‘em. Not that the forces of Red Power didn’t do their best to change him from an innocent to an entrenched opponent. This man grew up thinking he WAS Indian and got pushed out of the category by Indian people who hated the FBI -- who did their best to reinforce hate, even though the FBI was organized in the first place to oppose the many murders that came out of the great early oil strikes in Kansas. Wounded Knee was Wounded Pride. So the foxes sit quietly in front of the hen house with their tails curled around their well-polished wingtips while the weasels come and go.

I’m not meaning to accuse the amateur aficionadoes, who are off creating sonnets that ask “Why Gone Those Times?” I’m not ignoring the young rascals who say, “Good riddance.” It’s the commodifiers I’m after. In the meantime, sales everywhere are really miserable.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


If you've been putting off reading "Bronze Inside and Out" because of the cost, you might be happy to know it has somehow showed up on the Internet as a free download.

This is entirely without my knowledge, consent or permission. I hardly know what to think about it. If you read the book, I WOULD like to know what YOU think about the book.

Monday, October 24, 2011


This note arrived today from a friend:

Dear Mary:

Thought you might be interested to see this private collection of Bob Scriver material for sale on eBay.

I wondered if one of the notes listed in the sale, about an item having been stolen, might have been from you. The author is not stated.

The sale appears to be from a Montana estate.

* * * * *

This is the answer I sent back:

Uh, oh. This means either that Billy McCurdy badly needs money or that his estate is being distributed. He was about my age (70 +) and these things were from Bob's early life, before I came. Billy helped build the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife and later became the "manager" for Woody Herman as well as playing in the band. I always wondered a bit about the personal relationships. Bob's feelings for Billy were quite intense. Bob left him $10,000, which is what he did for each of his grandkids -- his children were dead. No one else inherited cash. I wondered whether he were Bob's son but the timing is wrong. Bob also left Billy his first battered old cornet, but Billy sent it back. I've tried to contact him, but no dice. The last address I had was in Minneapolis.

$20,000 is wildly optimistic in a world where a “Lone Cowboy” like mine (cast probably by Bob and I and patined by me) recently sold for $800. That's eight hundred. I would have guessed the value at $10,000. Auctions are two-edged swords. But if a person were a collector with an eye, well-informed, now would be the time to prepare for the next wave of popularity.

It's not the actual casting of the bison skull that was stolen. There was a guy who cruised the prairie souvenir shops picking up stuff and making molds of it. He made a mold of this skull and sold it far and wide. You can tell his castings because they're slightly squashed and blurred. This was a tourist item and the idea itself was much copied. The most resourceful version was an assortment of skulls and an assortment of birds with screws on the bottom so you mix and match with the skulls. They came in a molded, velvet-lined case. Not a bad idea!

I'd better look for Billy's obit.

Prairie Mary

Saturday, September 17, 2011


This information comes from a website called "Art Fact"

There is a photo at the website. I couldn't get it to migrate. This is the url for the list of Scriver bronzes that have been auctioned. If it doesn't work, just go to and use their search function for Scriver.®ionID=&stateID=&fdt=0&tdt=0&fr=0&to=0&wa=Scriver&wp=&wo=&nw=&upcoming=0&rp=&hi=&rem=FALSE&cs=0

Auctions Auctioneer Directory
Braswell Galleries
06/21/10 Fine Estate, Art & 20th Century Modern
Auction Catalog
SCRIVER, BOB (AMERICAN, 1914-1999): Cast bronze. "Masai Moran, Killer of Simba." Signed, dated 1996, and titled on the base.

Auction House: Braswell Galleries Auction Location: Norwalk , CT, USA
Title of auction: 06/21/10 Fine Estate, Art & 20th Century Modern
Auction Date: June 21, 2010
Description: SCRIVER, BOB (AMERICAN, 1914-1999): Cast bronze. "Masai Moran, Killer of Simba." Signed, dated 1996, and titled on the base.
H. 30."

Artfact is the world's largest auction database!
More than 67.4 million auction price results representing over $254.6 billion in value
Includes price results and upcoming art for sale at auction for over 500,000 artists

I only saw this sculpture once while Bob was working on it in plastilene. We shared an attraction to Kenya and all the stories that came out of it.

Looking on down the list, I see Bob's self-portrait described as "Bust of a cowboy with hat inscribed © Bob Scriver / 1975 / 9/35 Bronze" (on the back of the figure)

"Lot 746: BRONZE MODEL OF A STANDING HORSE Signed "RS". Attributed to Robert Scriver. Height 2¾"" is NOT a Scriver bronze. He never signed as RS and the horse is not in his style.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

'INTO THE WIND" is up for auction

If you go to the url above you'll find that Bob's original graceful and simple little conception of five geese landing, a moment from a hunting expedition we made in the Sixties, is up for auction. What this means is that either someone has died so that their belongings are in an estate to be converted into cash or that someone is REALLY hard up for cash. This little bronze only sold to people who dearly loved it and would not part with it easily.

Since this bronze was made, there have been other imitations -- the idea of birds linked this way so they appeared to be in the air struck a lot of people. It was a popular notion. We weren't sure it could be cast. Bob made a later version with more geese in it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


When I was serving the Saskatoon Unitarian Congregation, one of the families went on a holiday trip to the Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller and came back raving. “It is a temple to Life itself!” they declared, and when I finally got there myself, I saw that they were right. Other Canadian museums are just as grand and inspiring. The secret is that most of the “object focused” earlier collections had the good stuff, so the Canadians had to rely on ingenious presentation. Of course, at Drumheller the fossils wash out of the ground after every rainstorm. But “Head-Smashed-In” buffalo jump required careful thought. Check it out here:

I’m not naive about museums. I grew up in a museum-worshipping family and traveled across the US and Canada, stopping at every roadside attraction, so that I saw many a basement or garage collection as well as the great institutions of the cities, esp. the ones in Chicago where I went to university. One of my early favs was the case of rocks at the Portland Children’s Museum which looked like nothing until the room lights were off and the black light in the case was on -- then they were spectacular.

This NPR story is about a museum in the Blue Ridge mountains and is worth opening just for the photo, but the radio story is there as well. The link description tells the story. Everything packed in boxes. People wanting their family history returned to them. No room. No money. And as one lady said tartly, “It doesn’t rhyme with football.”

That story is being repeated all over many countries as the notion of what a museum “is” gets reappraised. And the museums themselves are appraised as well. There are 6 accredited museums in Montana: the C.M. Russell Museum, the Montana Historical Society Museum, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the Missoula Art Museum, the Museum of the Rockies, and the Western Heritage Center in Billings. Maybe your fav is not on the list. What would it mean? Only 4.5 % of the 17,500 US museums are accredited.

The CM Russell Museum spokeswoman said the inspectors checked “lighting, heating and air conditioning, sound systems and everything from the way the collection looks, and things such as the temperature pieces are kept.” I expect they also looked at the endowment. I do not know whether they investigated the quality of curation, security, inventory control, education programs and the like, but I would guess they did.

The Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife personally constructed by Bob Scriver would never have qualified. It had no fire suppression system, though it was built of old wood from a dis-assembled warehouse. I once overheard a little gaggle of college girls dis-assembling the captions. They didn’t knock the content, but they thought that typing words on cards with an old primary school typewriter and thumbtacking them onto homemade stands was too, too primitive. They deplored the fact that the animals weren’t under glass, and a lot of other stuff. I put my fingers in my ears. One of the things they found truly shocking was an old sofa where I snuck in for naps. After all, I was there at 6AM sweeping the floor and polishing the glass and couldn’t lock up until the last tourists were through petting the moose. There was also a matched pair of asymmetrical coral-colored boudoir chairs left behind by Bob’s second wife. The sapphire velveteen drapes behind the bronzes were an early Christmas gift from myself. This was a very "personal" place.

When the museum was dispersed after Bob’s death, the bronzes of Blackfeet went north to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton because they had already bought the legendary “million dollar” Scriver collection of Blackfeet artifacts. But they had to leave everything in storage for lack of space. Thanks to the tar sands income, they are now able to rebuild, as you can see at But the bronzes are scheduled to be transferred to the Fort Benton, Montana, museum, which is developing quickly and with standards that will probably qualify them for accreditation soon.

We tend to think of museums as fusty, unchanging repositories of inscrutable objects, which becomes a problem in two ways. One is when changing times and knowledge make the previous incarnation of business and presentation so out of sync that it becomes irrelevant, even though its whole purpose may be the preservation of the past, and the other is when it comes time to raise money for the funds to renew the museum. The Montana legislature has just approved authority to borrow to build a new Montana Historical Society Museum. There will be a struggle between those whose prestige rests on the status quo and those who will want to proceed on a new paradigm of presentation.

Bob Scriver’s entire estate was given to the Montana Historical Society, though the funds that had been included to provide for building had mysteriously evaporated. The C.M. Russell Museum, somehow snubbed in what started out to be a partnership, is now busily stripping all references to Bob Scriver. I watch all this from the sidelines, legally defined as having no “standing” to advise and without any funds or clout to contribute. What I have is knowledge.

So what I commend to the Powers-That-Be is that though they are nearly overwhelmed with objects, including Bob’s collections along with the many beloved possessions of other Montanans around the state, is that they take a Canadian approach -- that is, emphasis on curation. I don’t mean just “how much is it worth” which is the focus of many people in our greed-based world, but WHY is it valuable, what does it mean, what can we learn from it? These are the values that made the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife so beloved.

The Blackfeet artifacts were never exhibited there so as not to compete with the Museum of the Plains Indian next door. You can buy a book that includes everything: “The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains” if one turns up -- maybe on eBay or Abebooks or Alibris. Amazon sometimes. And you can buy my account of Bob’s life, “Bronze Inside and Out” which includes the story of the creation of the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife and how the pet bobcat napped in the horns of the mounted moose, which is NOT an accredited practice.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011



General comments: Bob Scriver’s sculpture can be grouped into periods. The earliest pieces (beginning in the Fifties) were in a smooth, detailed style. He generally worked on the scale of an inch to a foot. The animals from this time period were portraits of the game animals he shot to mount for the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife. I see none of them here. “Winter King” and “Herd Bull” often show up at auctions. This early period, up to and including the Sixties, includes many of his finest Blackfeet portraits because a series was projected with the cooperation of the Blackfeet Tribal Council. It never went through. “No More Buffalo” was made for this group.

He was often under pressure to be “looser” because it was thought to be more like Russell. The rodeo pieces, large and rough and the most celebrated, came out of the commission to make an heroic portrait of Bill Linderman for the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Late in life, Montana entrepreneurs would suggest subjects to Bob which they would buy with the rights to reproduce. These were generally small and often animals, meant to be collectible. They move through auctions constantly.

Much of the value of bronzes comes from tracing their provenance, which means who owned them from the time they were cast. This is a safeguard against illegal copies, which are always a danger when dealing with objects that can replicated with a mold. These bronzes are mostly from two estates. Scriver bronzes tend not to move around very much except for a few that were cast in large numbers later in his career. The bad side of this is that people don’t see the really fine ones. The Montana Historical Society has the entire estate but has not been able to develop it.

Paul Masa was a Kalispell art wheeler-dealer who commissioned Bob to make small sculptures intended for resale. High numbers of them were cast. (The most elite people limit to ten or twenty copies -- at least in theory.) They were not intended to be high end art. They were cast by using the ceramic shell method which is much more inexpensive but not quite so high quality as Roman block casting which is what Bob Scriver’s own Bighorn Foundry used.

Marquita Maytag was a world-class explorer and an important patron of Bob’s. She was a beautiful divorced redhead who traveled in and out of the reservation. She was at one time the US Ambassador to Nepal. Googling will give you interesting information. She was living in Sun Valley, ID. I’m sorry to realize she must be gone.

36. “To Ride a Bronc” 1 of 100, Masa estate.
This is a smaller version of the large spectacular event bronzes.

36. “Rodeo’s Classic Event” 28 of 100, Arrowhead Foundry, Maytag estate.
The same is true of this one.

38. “Price of a Scalp” Powell Foundry, Maytag estate
This sculpture was originally commissioned by George Montgomery but was released for sale because of his divorce from Dinah Shore.
59. Set of four game animals: “Down the Ridge,” “High Country Buck,” “On the Move,” “September Whitetail.” Masa estate
These are charming collectables.

59. (Paired with an Ace Powell bronze of a child) “Ranch Fillies” 32/55, Masa estate

59. Lot of three: “Steer #1 Special” 1974, “Colt” #12, “Enne Kaukee”, Masa estate
“Enne Kaukee” means Buffalo Woman in Blackfeet. She is meant to stand for the source and protection of life itself. (“aukee” added to the end of a word means woman. Enne is Buffalo.)

59. Pair of reclining animals: “Paul’s Bull” (Buffalo) 1/1000 and “Rex’s Ram” 1/100.
Paul is Paul Masa. Rex would be Rex Brenneman, who is recently deceased. Masa estate.

64. “Good Boy, Bart” (The Bear and Doug Seus) 1992, Arrowhead Foundry, Maytag estate.
This is a portrait for which Seus and his tame Kodiak bear posed. Bart became a big star because he made so many rousing adventure scenes possible.

81. “Spring Storm” 1976, 33/35, Maytag estate
Cowboy with a newborn calf in front of him on horseback.

88. “No More Buffalo” 1957, Maytag estate
This is a real coup for someone who’s paying attention. There are many knockoff illegal copies of this intensely popular bronze, but the provenance here proves that it is original, probably cast at the Bighorn Foundry (I think I remember helping to cast it.) and bound to hold and increase in value. See the small Proctor busts at the end of this post.

88. “Rangeland Kiss” (colt and mare) 24/35, Masa estate

88. “On the Trapline” 1977, Maytag estate
A trapper on snowshoes.

88. “Buddies” (two horses) 13/50, 1977

94. “Ace” 19/35 From Duane and Ivy Curtis in Bigfork, MT. Direct from the artist to them and then to this auction.
This is another piece that is often illegally copies, sometimes garishly patined. This provenance adds value.

97. “Self-Portrait” 1977, Maytag estate
Bob himself.

97. “Bust of CM Russell” 1966, Maytag estate
This is taken from an intermediate full-length portrait of CMR in which he stands with his thumbs in his sash. It was meant to be a better version than the portrait that Bob submitted to the contest for a statue in the Hall of Bronze in Washington, DC, but it was not the definitive statue that stands on the grounds of the CMRussell Museum.
98. “Captain Lewis & Our Dog Scannon” 18/150, 1976, Arrowhead Foundry
This was a subset of the cluster of sculpts that came out of the heroic Lewis & Clark and Sacajawea bronze in Fort Benton and then the similar statue that drops Sacajawea but adds York and the Newfoundland, both belonging to Clark. The dog’s name was thought at the time to be “Scannon,” but later was decided to be “Seaman.” You might want to spell it carefully.

135. “Prairie Buck,” 1957, Maytag estate
A woman writer showed up in the shop in 1957 and asked Bob to make a portrait of a pronghorn antelope to be photographed for the cover of her book. She never came back. This is the first of Scriver’s sculptures to be cast into bronze and always sold well.

135. “The Protector of the Vital Ground” (grizz family group) 27/150, 1993, Maytag estate “Vital Ground” is the name of Doug Seus’ project to save habitat for grizzlies.

“Big Beaver”, 1917 #AP This is Eddie Big Beaver, who also posed for Bob Scriver’s “No More Buffalo.” There is entertaining material about him in Proctor’s autobiography, “Sculptor in Buckskin.” #AP means that the casting was the artist’s proof and therefore excused from being numbered. The notion comes more from print-making than bronze casting.
“Jackson Sundown” 1916 #AP

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This morning I woke up early but unsure of the time. Some of the clocks are reset and some aren’t. It was pretty dark but I had heard the paper come, so I got up and read the section dedicated to the auctions in Great Falls at the end of the week. It’s all about new artists -- the old stalwarts swept away. Charlie Russell is there, of course, but no one is alive who knew him. Les Peters, who set up his studio for display after his death is dead himself now and never mentioned.

I went back to bed and dreamt about the Sixties when the auction commotion began. In those days a studio was often wood-heated and pretty rough. Charlie’s telephone pole cabin was mighty fancy by our standards. Our stuff was just “there” for reference or because the place might have been a back storage room in the first place. Ace Powell and Nancy McLaughlin, his wife, had a pretty nice studio with big windows in Hungry Horse, but that was because it was an old store and they ran a kind of trading post in the front while living in the back with their kids. That’s the one that burned down. Al Racine was in an old log cabin in St. Marys but you couldn’t live there in the winter: the wind whistled through it. John Clarke was in the bottom of his house in East Glacier because the top had burned out. He just walled off that part.

Nowadays artists’ studios are real layouts featured in magazines, but nowadays they make real money so they can afford spacious, furnished, properly decorated, architect-designed places. It’s the New West, a lifestyle based on money and fantasy. They have glossy bear rugs on the wall. We had real bears on the floor, waiting to be skinned. The first New West artist to show up was on the Flathead side of the mountains, naturally. It was Fred Fellows, who had been a city advertising art guy. He came over to Browning to buy some objects to arrange around here and there. He’s gone to the Southwest now.

Since I turned out to be a writer instead of an artist and since writers these days use computers and since you can’t have a computer in a cabin that goes from freezing to roasting with a wood stove throwing particulate into the air, my house is not nearly as cabin-like as I would prefer. Jack Smith, down the street at the Medicine River Gallery is closer because, like Ace, he’s about as much a trader as an artist. But he’s online with a computer, so he has to use gas heat. He DOES keep it roaring and sits right next to it, so it’s a good place to sit to gab and warm up. Not that you’d get a word in edgewise with Jack, but there’s a lot of art and artifact to look at.

I don’t have bear rugs and Ralph Lauren Hudson’s Bay blankets and pole-made beds, etc. Nor do I have any Indian artifacts except for my Bundle-transfer dress and moccs, which I keep put away in case the Bundle is found and can be properly transferred again. They don’t look like much, which is often the way it is with the real stuff. What people like is parade regalia. A full set of white buckskin, beaded and painted, with ermine and falconry bells -- maybe some “scalps” -- sells for as much as a cowboy artist’s painting. I do smudge. And I do have a woodstove in the garage where there is a concrete floor. When there’s no wind and the weather is not too dry, I burn my windfall limbs and am happy.

So I went back to sleep and dreamt that a Jimmy-load of guys and their women had stopped by. I had a woodstove and a pot of cowboy coffee simmering and we all settled to spin yarns and whittle. Then the guys asked if they could take a bath and one-by-one they did. (I don’t have a bathtub anymore either -- well, I do, but it’s out in the backyard where I grow tomatoes in it.) It was like those obligatory scenes in old Westerns where the hero, modestly arranged in the soapsuds, smokes a cigar or a pipe and sticks his foot up to scrub it with a brush.

I wish I could remember what we said in the dream conversation. Some of it was olden days and a little of it was “Doomer” talk like that from Paul, who still lives with a wood stove and a spring out in the boonies. It’s just that he talks on the computer. We sorta have a suspicion that things are going to circle back to the basics here pretty soon.

Nassim Taleb has been talking about “fragility” (things that easily crash) versus “robustness” (things that are consolidated and stronger under adversity). It looks pretty clear to me and others that our infrastructure of all kinds is becoming increasingly complex and out of control. Do I have to say “Japan”? So are our political systems, which are rapidly converting into interlocking international corporations. The most fragile systems are monocultures, like our food crops. The assumption that may save the Doomers is that being prepared for the worst is never a mistake and the closer one stays to the basics, the better.

Of course, I consider art and friendship basics. What sticks with me from the dream, which wasn’t realistic but rather morphed among a number of places with an assortment of characters, was the atmosphere of inquiry and trust. You can’t buy it from Ralph Lauren. (I did once buy some Ralph Lauren sheets. Not sorry.) Neither can you buy it from an auction or find it in a studio with a hardwood floor and a high-end sound system where a nice guy paints nostalgic stuff. It’s not bad -- it’s just not the same thing. The same as the Old West, which was pretty hard on people and animals, is not the same as the New West, which is just pretty . . . and fragile.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Doodling around in search of information about the auctions in Great Falls this weekend, the ones that used to cluster around the annual auction celebrating the birthday of Charles Marion Russell, I stumbled across this video. It only mentions Russell at the beginning and is really focused on Texas rather than Montana, but it’s a VERY good job of tracing the development of the genre. The quality of the video is not the best and it doesn’t occur to the cameraman that we’re more interested in seeing the art work than looking at the speaker until partway into the lecture, but it’s worth using up some patience to struggle along. Here’s the formal description.

Lecture: Cattle Drives to Cadilacs: Visions of the West by Contemporary Artists
Lecture Date: Tue, May 11th, 2010
Speaker: Michael Duty
Speaker Bio: Michael Duty is a noted author that has spent three decades in the museum community in various Director capacities, including at the National Western Art Foundation in San Antonio, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Rockwell Museum in Corning, New York and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art in Indianapolis. He is a co-founder of MuseumsWest consortium and a former Executive Director of the California Historical Society in San Francisco. Michael has organized more than 60 museum exhibitions, is a frequent lecturer, and has won multiple awards.

Evidently Heritage Auction Galleries handles just about every kind of valuable object except livestock. Given the times, this is not surprising as wealth is rearranged to better match fortunes. But other posts lead me to believe that Duty has left Heritage. This is not surprising either, since he is of retirement age and writes books, so it would be reasonable to move to a more free-lance sort of arrangement, maybe writing or visiting institutions for one-time curating jobs.

The CM Russell Museum in Great Falls is a member of the “MuseumsWest” consortium which Duty helped found. The entire list is: Amon Carter Museum, Autry National Center, Booth Western Art Museum, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, C.M. Russell, Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Gilcrease Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, national Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, National Mueum of Wildlife Art, Petrie Institute of Western American Art at Denver Art Museum, Rockwell Museum of Western Art, and the Stark Museum of Art. Duty is the founding director of the Eiteljorg Museum, which has quickly moved to the top rank of these institutions.

I have been frank -- indeed a bit rabid -- about what I call the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel. Bob Scriver was coming to prominence just about the same time that the major institutions and most qualified directors were also developing in the Sixties. The Ad Club’s CMR Auction also formed about this time. Artists and markets sort of grew up together, not always watching carefully about which were public venues with nonprofit status and which were wildcat operations for personal profit. That is, this week’s road shuttler became next week’s gallery owner became the third week’s institutional director. Some of them were educated in a scholarly way (Duty clearly was) and others simply keyed off auction results, like the information on which runs a sort of “ticker tape” of results.

The result of this pattern was that it followed the money. The big free-standing museums were generally created by natural resource and engineering money, the state historical societies varied widely in holdings and expertise, and the line between cowboys and Indians was often split into two tracks.

There was also a major regional dynamic, so that the SW developed quite a long time before the northern plains where lesser wealth, sparse population, and long distances made life harder. The fact that Charlie Russell became such a “marker” artist was an anomaly, as was Frederick Remington, who was essentially an Easterner. Perhaps they stand out because of clever marketing, though they are both skillful and valuable artists and the times were right.

On the northern prairie in the Sixties, Dick Flood and Ace Powell were the voices of cowboy art. Flood was a definitive shuttler and gallery founder. Ace was more sophisticated because of a Russian wife who knew things. That was fifty years ago. They were operating by the seats of their pants, not through sophisticated knowledge about art. Some of the artists that Duty talks about in this lecture did not exist yet -- literally had not been born. As the genre has matured, it has acquired “middle-age spread” and now includes many paintings -- you’ll see them in this presentation -- that we would never have imagined, much less called “cowboy art.” (Mainly crossing into abstraction or landscape.) Cowboy Artists of America was an effort to define the category, maintain friendships among artists, and introduce value-based marketing -- a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Through the efforts of Dean Krakel in Oklahoma City and Harold McCracken in Cody, institutional holdings became more justified, curated, and carefully managed.

That’s where my complaints about the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel begin. Where there is carrion, there will be coyotes. I suspect that at first the “de-accessioning” -- that’s museum talk for disposing of art and objects -- was simply a matter of clearing the shelves of things that were clearly not worth saving. You won’t hear many museum people admit that. In the Sixties the director of the Montana Historical Society lost the line between his job and himself and simply gave away what he considered lesser art to friends and important people. He was caught and paid the price.

But the biggest de-accessioner is time. Especially in terms of “hard economic times.” So across the nation boards of directors have bowed to the idea that certain commercially valuable holdings are not “within the goal and mission of this organization.” When the “holding” is a giant Jackson Pollock mural worth millions (even though there are still people who consider it just dribbling), the story goes ballistic. Probably there have been smaller items quietly shifted out the back door everywhere.

A big “name” can protect some things. I doubt that the Charlie Russell mural in the Montana state legislature will be peeled off the wall and sold tomorrow. But given major aesthetic shifts and maybe politically correct rhetoric from Indians who don’t care for their depiction and never liked Lewis & Clark anyway . . . ideas could change. The most potent persuasion, of course, would be money. I wonder what the mural would look like in Dubai.

“Cowboy art” is most meaningful when connected to its roots, but the roots don’t go back more than a couple of centuries. Unless it is more than just subject matter, it might not last that long into the future. But Michael Duty can reassure you about that. He has a dry sense of humor, which is a necessity and a pleasure. At least for me.

Monday, February 28, 2011


We’re getting close to Charlie Russell’s birthday, which used to be the date of the landmark Great Falls Ad Club Auction in Great Falls. Last year for the first time the main auction was not held, for various reasons, and success at the smaller ones was mixed, also for various reasons. Part of the change was due to the recession, but also the passage of time had a great deal of influence. It is getting so Charlie Russell is a senior citizen figure. When one looked at the big auction crowd, there were a lot of gray and even white heads.

The following “classifieds” are from which is a website that keeps track of American (a few Canadian) artists -- not just Western artists but more usually historical than contemporary. I’ve taken off the names of the people who posted these but you can find the names, conveniently linked to the person’s email, at

In combination, auctions and this sort of website which monitors auctions, have come to act as adjuncts to galleries. If you want to know what things are selling for, this is the go-to website. If you want to know their VALUE, you won’t find much curation beyond the artist’s life stories and a list of books and magazines that consider him or her. That’s very helpful, but if you are wondering about how much something will sell for at the NEXT auction, much depends on who is there, the general economy, and other dynamics no one can control, like weather. The gambler dynamic is part of the game. You can use the site to locate an expert.

found.... bob scriver sculpture " six point bull"

Today at a thrift store in cda Idaho I found and purcheased what I am certain is an original Bob scriver bronze six point bull sculpture. It is engraved with his name and the date 1984 and 110/110. It asking says " six point bull". I paid $6 for it at St Vincent depaul. It is obviously bronze and original. I am wondering if this should be in a museum or a collection somewhere. I am not a collector and I would like it to be in the right place. Not looking for money just a good home if it is real which I am certain it is. Its about 12" tall and sits on a wood base. Very heavy..... thank you

Scriver & Powell bronzes
I have several bronzes I need help pricing. Powell:Blood Man & Woman, On Alert, Sun Mt. Colt and Spring Foal.
Scriver: Iola's Otter, Paul's Bull and Sage Brush.
Any info will be helpful.

Bob Scriver PAINTING
I have found a Bob Scriver Painting in my parents estate. It is signed and dated 1955. The picture is of a pronghorn antelope. There is a sticker on the back, "Bob Scriver Taxidermy and Art Studio. Western Sculpter of North America Big Game in Minature." with Phone number and address. There were other unsigned paintings of Pheasants & other birds. I don't think it's his style, but I don't think they were his. Just curious if anyone has other Scriber paintings? Thank You-Elsie Miller

4 Bronzes by Scriver
I was blessed to receive as gifts 4 bronzes by Bob Scriver:

1. No 67 of 100 "1861 Mail (Pony Express)"
2. No. 84 of 110 "Six Point Bull" - a beautiful elk
3. No. 72 of 100 "In Season (Big Horn Ram)
4. No. 55 of 100 "Rex's Bull (buffalo)

These were the nicest gifts ever given to me and my family. Can someone give me an idea of their worth.

Trained by television shows that feature “experts” who tell people what their attic finds are worth, people know that they may have something that is more valuable than they think, and in this age of commodification are not backwards about pricing gifts. Particularly in the American West where Charlie Russell was famous for producing works that ended up stored someplace because inheritors thought that cowboy subjects indicated low-brow and low-value work, many alert aficionadoes have carefully worked their way through places like the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store and a few have made major finds.

Some things are not likely to be desirable to a major gallery. Bob Scriver’s early paintings are likely to be valuable mostly to people who knew him. Some of them may be “learning copies” of work by more developed artists. With Russell there’s always the problem of Seltzer paintings looking just like Charlie’s to the untrained eye. With Scriver it was me who painted just like him sometimes because we went out to make sketches side-by-side and stole ideas from each other.

Here’s Bob at the St. Mary’s cabin with the day’s “take.” Mine is the smaller painting on the left. This was in the mid-Sixties.

When dealing with bronzes there are several different factors to consider which I have laid out in this blog and in my biography of Bob: “Bronze Inside and Out.” (Available on Amazon) The chief difficulty has been the failure of any dealer to promote his work or support his “mythology” in the way he did himself when he was alive. His estate is not even exhibited.

The second biggest problem is that a three-dimensional sculpture is vulnerable to technological advances that changed the dynamics of bronzes as much as electronic books have changed publishing. Suddenly bronzes were easy to copy, they were everywhere, an untrained eye couldn’t tell good from bad, and they were cheap to produce. The general public, esp. in a place like Montana where people know the subjects of the art but not the qualities or business of art, can only tell that a bronze is metal and doesn’t fuss around about how many were cast, what the casting flaws might be, the importance of provenance, and so on.

Subject matter counts for a lot, with cowboys and Indians in action poses being the most valuable for a long time. Things come in and out of “political” opinion so right now you’d probably have to be a certain kind of person to want a big rodeo bronze like “Paywindow,” which goes in and out of auctions for much less that I think it will eventually be worth. I think the casting going around is one we did in Browning and that I worked on. At the time it was considered very daring. It’s BIG and that makes a difference, too. In the era of big houses, which is just ending, this would be great. In a small apartment, not so much.

From the beginning Bob Scriver sold smaller pieces to local people. Towards the end he made many modestly-sized pieces to order for entrepreneurs who “published” them using their own foundries and galleries. These have less value than scarce sculptures that he cast earlier in his own Bighorn Foundry, using a traditional method. They were meant to be that way. Most Montana people who have them are not thinking in terms of investment as much as about the direct connection with the artist.

One does wonder how that bull elk got into the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store. Someone died? An unappreciative spouse? Just a plain outright mistake? Keep an eye peeled!

Friday, January 14, 2011


One of the useful characteristics of rogue anthropologists is their clandestine modes of operation, so this blog is violating a few unwritten rules. But that is the nature of blogs and probably the dynamic that makes some people afraid of them. They are not accountable to any funding or otherwise controlling agency like an institution or publisher. In a way, I’m joining the rogues. This will probably eliminate me from consideration by many of the small new publishers who are replacing the old tweed Manhattan and Boston publishers. They’re gone anyway. The new publishers tend to be “nice ladies,” some of whom pulled themselves out of real trouble by struggling through school where they learned respect for authorities. Rogues put them into a state of panic.

Anyway, the two rogues I’m going to discuss are about my age. John Hellson is a half-dozen years older than 71 and Adolph Hungry Wolf might be a little younger. Both of them showed up on the Blackfeet Rez in Montana in the Sixties, not long after I did, and both of them were drawn to Bob Scriver, who often acted as an interlocutor between the outside world and the rez where he was born. John, Adolph, Bob, and I are all white, which makes us politically incorrect from birth because of the post-colonial rule that only the indigenous can write about the indigenous. (Bob was the only one of us born on the rez.) It was a useful rule for breaking up the colonial practice of ransacking cultures under the guise of “salvage anthropology,” the idea that the cultures were disappearing so “scientists” were justified in collecting artifacts, stories, and ceremonies in order to preserve them. The rogues were not so scientific and not affiliated with any institutions, but maybe because of that they acquired huge amounts of “stuff.”

Both married Blood Blackfeet women (“Blood” the tribal subdivision) from excellent families so they had unique access that by-passed the usual taboos as well as the suffocating forces of both the reservation itself, which constantly tries to present itself as more virtuous, more deserving, more missionary-responsive than they might actually be -- as well as more pleasing to publishers, universities and museums. The problem was how to make a living. One way was Adolph’s method which was self-publishing. The Good Medicine books that he and his family produced are invaluable. He was especially alert to photographs, the old kind mounted on cardboard that are called “cabinet” photographs. They are meant to be held and “read” with long scrutiny. Finding some of these in a suitcase he bought at an auction, he carried them everywhere with him and whenever he found old-timers, he ask them to “read” and interpret for him. Then he put the information on the back. He is an educated man who values history. ALL his info is now available in four volumes he self-published, expecting shouts of joy and honor. Instead, he discovered that the world had changed radically in the last fifty years.

The nineteenth century world of James Willard Schultz, George Bird Grinnell, and even John Ewers is no longer of much interest to young people. The gray-headed white people who used to obsess over all that horse-and-feather stuff is thinning out fast. Now the cutting edge of Blackfeet anthro research is academic indigenous people and those closely associated with them (like white profs married to Blackfeet: consider Rosalyn LaPier and Dave Beck at the U of Montana; or the people who cluster around Darrell Kipp and Jack Gladstone). With modern technology like GPS or molecular analysis, these people find ancient campsites, begin to sift through the archives of Hudson’s Bay or the Roman Catholic Church, translating the first earliest letters “home,” breaking through into a far more elegant and detailed account of earlier days even before the horse.

Repatriation, the law returning every artifact and skeleton to the tribe where it originated, created a huge opportunity for clandestine profit from artifacts in much the same way as Prohibition made alcohol worth criminal attention. This change did not affect Hungry Wolf so much as it did John Hellson, who had been surviving by brokering objects. The glorious beaded buckskin suits had intrinsic value of their own because they were beautiful. But there was a lot of stuff that was just floating around -- no one knew what it was or cared very much except the very old people who remembered what it meant, not least because they were keyed into a close sensory knowledge of the land and animals as it was before the fence and the plow. These two guys who “lived the life” picked up that often religious information. They were not cynical. They LOVED this culture. Adolph still lives in a log cabin with a creek for a water source. His computer is run by a solar panel. Otherwise, no electricity.

Evolution happens when one portion of the population is separated -- usually geographically -- and in that niche evolves in a different way. Then later it may reunite with the main body and make a contribution to the gene pool. The great NA political furor over who had enough proper provenance to study Indians has obliterated far more worthy issues. Anyway Indian tribal identity is NOT determined by genetics, but by provenance: who was your grandmother? It only goes back to first official white contact, though whites were in the West almost as soon as the continent was discovered -- think of Spaniards bringing the horse. Hellson or Hungry Wolf are almost directly European, not even in America long. John is from Cornwall, England. Adolph is from California but his folks are Austro-Hungarian.

All that is old news. The problem that is now presented is how to recognize and preserve the undisciplined work of these two rogues: Adolph orderly and in plain sight (mostly), the other dubious enough to land Hellson in prison. Out of the blue Hellson called me a day or so ago. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. He was weaving the same old sorcerer’s spell that captured Bob Scriver in the Sixties, unbroken until he stole some of Bob’s artifacts while he was supposed to be curating them. Today’s accredited and honorable researchers, in particular the indigenous ones, have nothing but scorn for the rogues. As far as they’re concerned, the work is contaminated, even toxic. And yet part of the advantage these adventurers had was that they were willing to explore the taboo, the sexual that had to be written about in Latin, the unsuspected and imperceptible to other white outsiders and some red insiders.