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."


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.

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