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."


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.