Sunday, July 13, 2014


Bob Scriver exhibit ‘Mastery in Bronze’ at Montana Historical Society

July 11, 2014 11:00 am

A new exhibit at the Montana Historical Society Museum features the work of Robert MacFie Scriver, whose rodeo, wildlife and Native American bronzes have been shown at galleries and museums, and been prized by collectors across the nation and the world.
“Mastery in Bronze: Selections from The Bob Scriver Collection” features bronzes from all three genres and tells the story of the man who was born in 1914 on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, where his parents operated a mercantile company.
This is the 100-year anniversary of his birth, and when he died in 1999, he was still at work in his studio at his gallery and museum in Browning. He grew up amid the vast plains and “shining” mountains surrounded by frontier characters and Blackfeet elders.
He was influenced by the geography of the people and animals of the Glacier Park area and was steeped in the romance of the Wild West.
His first love was music, and he was an accomplished professional cornet player and served on the faculty of his high school alma mater as music supervisor and band director. By the 1950s, Scriver’s fascination with taxidermy began to replace his interest in teaching music.
One of his first big successes was preparing the mount for Big Medicine, the famed white buffalo from the National Bison Range that is still on exhibit at MHS.
His work with taxidermy soon led him to begin experimenting with sculpting and later bronzes. He had his first major exhibition at his Browning studio in 1961. It received acclaim and national recognition followed.
In 2000, his wife Lorraine donated a large collection of his work including bronzes, sculptures and other artwork and memorabilia to the Montana Historical Society.
There will be a public event on Thursday, Aug. 14, to commemorate his birthday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


tipis by Tom Gilleon

Recently at “The Russell” suite of auctions and showrooms that occupies Great Falls in this week every year, a video animation displayed via a flat screen player hanging on the wall was sold as a “painting” for $225,000  It was created by using a program called “PixOils,” by Tom Gilleon, known for his “eternal triangle” endless series of paintings of iconic tipis in romantic natural settings.  Gilleon once worked for Disney

Animated art by Tom Gilleon.  That's Tom.

Whether this new art form is better or worse than what Rembrandt did sort of relates to what you think about the sentimental greeting card art of Thomas Kinkade  who built a sales empire on pretty little cottages or maybe the video greeting card art of Jacquie Lawson with her big dogs and little birds.  If you google popular art about cottages, you’ll see a thriving genre with a certain amount of variation but not too much.  If you think of Gilleon tipis as “Plains Indian Cottages”, you wouldn’t be far wrong.  There’s a fascinating discussion of Kinkade’s art at  I do not think that the comments about Kinkade are exactly relevant to Gilleon, but they are suggestive.

by Thomas Kinkade

Animated video images are a hat trick not much different than the latest innovation in sculpture, which is laser-guided reconstruction of actual objects on whatever scale and in whatever medium is desired.  But then what happens to the concept of the artist?  The idea of seeing through another person’s eyes and skills is still there, but so dependent on technology that it loses some of the magic.  Doesn’t it?  Maybe not.

Rolling snakes

Basic to the child’s impulse to create is the manipulation of a squishy substance into a depiction of some kind, if only rolling out plastilene snakes.  Many a rural child has found a deposit of clay, perhaps along a river bank, and used it to make little figures, maybe of animals (usually lying down or standing in tall grass so legs are not visible, since it takes a certain amount of skill to create a functional armature of wire or sticks in legs so the creature won’t collapse).

"The Right of Way" by Earl Heikka

Later some people discover paper mache -- or “papier maché” because if it’s in French it’s more artistic in many minds.  This may be as simple as newspaper smeared with flour-and-water glue, or it might be the wood fibre reduced to bits that’s used, for instance, in taxidermy.  Something similar was “marblex”, an air-dry clay, which was used byEarl Heikka over wire and fibre armatures.  Usually treated as mixed-media because bits of string or metal are included, the figures are generally painted realistically.  Since they are fragile, even in the process of construction, and require much experience to use without shrinkage and loss of integrity, they are usually displayed under glass.  They are very difficult to reproduce in bronze, since mold-making generally damages if not destroys them.  Certainly, the charming effects of the color and details are usually lost, which can reveal poor composition and proportion.

The point of a mold is to allow reproduction.  In the early days of Euro-style sculpture, most creations were cut in marble, particularly a white stone found in Carrera, Italy.  Using the skills of woodcutters, or in fact of any kind of carving whether in materials soft or hard, the figure is revealed by cutting away what is not wanted. From origins in sedimentation of tiny sea creatures, marble is metamorphized from softer limestone and plaster.  A block of plaster, and likewise a block of wax, could be carved in the same way, but the fact that wax melts and melds means that wax is almost infinitely malleable.  Charlie Russell is said to have kept a wad of wax in his pocket which he obsessively transformed from one animal into another: a cow, a pig, a bear or even a person.  This sort of working with something by manipulating it is called “haptic.”  Hands on.

Plaster has different qualities.  When it is powdered and baked to get molecular water out of it, it can be mixed with new water -- and perhaps other inclusions -- and will stay liquid for a little while until chemical reactions cause it to turn into a solid again.  The kind of “plaster” can vary from near-stone to a solid so soft that it can be incised by a fingernail.  And its qualities make it ideal for casting:  that is, to be put into a mold in liquid form, let set up, and then removed as shaped by the mold.  A mold can be made of anything that will separate from the plaster and the separation is often helped by using some kind of liquid, maybe something as simple as dish soap.  Molds are often made of something flexible so that they won’t get hung up by overhangs in the castings. 

Wax can be used in molds just like plaster.  But molds might also be made from solid objects, maybe plaster or maybe something else like wax.  It’s possible to model something in water-based clay or oil-based clay (plastilene), make a mold of it, then pour in plaster or wax which will set up and create a new version.  To some people, the realization that duplication is possible in this way is a mechanical addition that makes the object “lesser” because it is no longer unique -- it is multiple.  To other people, the process of making duplicates -- whether carving a new version of a marble bust through measuring and careful observation or creating a series of bronze castings through the use of molds -- simply adds another dimension of skill and therefore value.  

Plaster casting of marble bust of George Washington by Houdon

The great shift in sculpture from marble to bronze (stone-cutting based in Italy to foundries based in France) happened roughly coincidentally with the American Revolution.  The impulse to immortalize heroes in an age preceding photography began with Houdon’s busts and gradually continued through Beaux Arts Paris-trained sculptors from America.  By the time of the Civil War, marble was out of fashion -- bronze was the thing.  Thus do the materials, techniques and impulses of art weave in and out through the value and actual creative skill of the artists.

Blake the Woodcarver's "Hungry Horse"

Bob Scriver, as well as “Blake the Woodcarver,” Ace Powell, Albert Racine, John Clarke, and a few other North Central Montana artists made plaster figurines from molds to sell in shops meant for tourists.  Blake, Albert Racine, and John Clarke all employed a studio machine, a kind of belt-driven pantograph, that would duplicate an object on a lathe system.  This machined blank would then be touched up and finished by hand so as to represent it as hand-carved.  Blake and Scriver did more plaster casting.  Blake’s figures of Indian faces and the “Hungry Horse” were simple but Scriver’s little animals required antlers and sometimes his humans required accouterments

Scriver's Breyer horse

While completing an MA in Chicago at Vandercook School of Music, Scriver went searching for a material to make antlers that would survive a certain amount of handling.  He found a material called P-300, a combination of kaolin and latex that was liquid but set-up into a material that had a little forgiving spring to it, so it would return to the same shape.  It was cast flat in a plaster mold, but with a little heat could be formed into the curves of antlers.  In those days latex was the main material used for flexible molds, so Scriver was used to it.  The antlers, once formed, were attached to the plaster animals, which were then painted with lacquer from an airbrush.  The result was a little “slick” and manufactured-looking, rather like china figures, but to the general population this was attractive.  They sold well.  Later Scriver’s style worked out well for the Breyer horses, made of plastic, which had some of the qualities of Kinkade sentimental art, shiny and brightly colored.

The bison diorama from the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife

Two discoveries improved the manufacturing process, both of them discovered by one of Bob’s students with a bent for invention and materials. (He was originally intending to animate the miniature dioramas of Montana animals that were in a room at the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife and are now “moth-balled” at the Montana Historical Society.) The first was what was then called “parachute cord” but now is known as bungee cord.  The great advantage was that it could hold together the plaster shell that supported the flexible mold so tightly that nothing in liquid form leaked. 

The second discovery was koroseal, a rubbery material that had to be heated to be liquid and poured over the figure to be molded while the sculpture sat on a vacuum table, having been carved out from inside until it was a shell that air could pass through.  Koroseal came as ground up bits and was melted in a turkey roaster.  It was red so it looked like jam.  The stuff clung and, if spattered, burned badly.  But it made excellent and durable molds that took small details, reproducing them accurately again and again.  Using it was nerve-wracking and took major skill.  It’s a kind of synthetic rubber related to teflon.

Using koroseal molds meant that the quality of castings was much higher than those cast from latex molds -- which had been a huge improvement over the original agar-agar (gelatin) molds of the Beaux Arts foundries.  Agar-agar disintegrates and both it and latex can easily distort if misaligned with the plaster shells that supported them. Koroseal is so durable that when, as Scriver’s will required, the molds were taken to the dump and crushed under a bulldozer, I suspect that some survived.  Destroying them would mean putting them through a grinder.

Bob Scriver
When I googled to find out more about koroseal, I was taken to a Starz series about Leonardo da Vinci, called “DaVinci’s Demons”.  Art is a very “DaVinci” sort of thing if one goes beyond marks on paper.  Digital animation, as produced by Gilleon, or technical advantages likekoroseal would have appealed to da Vinci very much.  But I’m not sure his subjects would be so bright and iconic as Gilleon tipis.  Perhaps other CGI artists would have a darker and more “scientific” sort of vision.  Perhaps they should explore “Montana Gothic” as well as “Indigenous Disney.”  On the other hand, dark subjects might not be so appealing to the middle-class prosperous folks who buy art.  In the end, the point is to sell.

A rather over-zealous journalist arrived in the studio in the early Sixties, on the hunt for a spectacular story.  Bob knew her, because she’d been there before, and she was the little peppy brunette type he liked.  Somehow she got her notes a bit scrambled (or possibly she never took any) because she announced in the article that the secret of Bob’s success was a fabulous new substance he used called “Petrolane.”  That was the name of the gas company.  She enthused that this stuff would harden, by-passing molds, but took excellent detail and wasn’t fragile.   There was no such thing at that point.  It was what everyone would have liked to have had.

A doll-head and the mold for it.

In fact, Bob was still using the old-fashioned method of creating a figure in plastilene, making a hard mold around it out of plaster, pulling the hard mold apart -- which destroyed the plastilene where it had to be pulled out of overhangs -- then filling the hollow with hydrocal, a much harder form of plaster.  The mold that had been against the plastilene was tinted blue and sealed with a mix of shellac and bear rug dye which soaked into the mold a bit, so you could tell if you were getting close to the casting.  Then the tense precision task of cutting the blue mold off with small chisels and scrapers took hours.  Bob was very good at it, just as he was at the other ticklish little techniques of transference.  He didn’t want people around.  Very few other artists were patient enough to do this and, in fact, specialist technicians did it where there were enough artists to make a living at it -- and keep their skills sharp.

A formal bust and the mold for it.

Now the technical means began to make life simpler and easier.  One of the first inventions was “cold molding compound” which came in several varieties but was most usually black tuffy, a kind of rubber with a carbon filler. “FMC 200 is the strongest of the polysulfides, can be used for casting almost any materials and is widely used by foundries.  Ideal for wax or plaster casting.  (Not to be used with resin or silicone casting.)”   It was nasty stuff, but nothing like the difficulty of Koroseal.  The quality of the mold wasn’t quite as good.  The stuff was stretchy but also would tear, and sometimes distort if it weren’t stored exactly right.  Bob began to use straight pins to keep things in the right place.  Someone said we could keep the rubber more flexible if we rubbed them with Vaseline, but that turned out to deteriorate the surface.  A chemist who came through told us of another substance that would work for sure, but it was so carcinogenic that Bob wouldn’t let me use it.  Not that he thought of gloves.
A Work by Lyndon Pomeroy

Readers of the Great Falls Tribune in recent days have seen a photo of a Lutheran church with a big abstract Jesus over the door.  (The church has had a schism over gays, which is the content of the story.)  The work of Lyndon Pomeroy, it aroused competition in Bob who was then asked to make a bison in that style for Great Falls High Schooland a rustler for CMR High School.  The technical angle was that these were made of Corten steel, AKA “weathering steel” which would form a rusty crust or patina that prevented corrosion, meaning it didn’t need painting.  Abstract artists make huge welded pieces from the sheets it comes in.   Pomeroy was a grassroots guy in bib overalls who turned out a LOT of work. 

The Guardians of the North.  Chief Mountain in the background.

Later this genre of sculpture became very popular on the rez because of the huge number of junk cars to be stripped for material.  At that point chrome and the car paint became part of the use.  Also the government’s idea of what rez folk should learn to do was welding.  Now there are “guardians” at the compass points of the rez, plus a large assembly of totems (elk, wolf, bison) at the Indian Health Service Hospital, and other  spots, plus a jingling set of icons on the street light posts.  Most ranchers and farmers have learned to weld and often make joke sculptures out of junk.

Robert Gould Shaw Memorial by Saint Gaudens across the street from 25 Beacon Street.

But as much fun as it was to create such things, Bob Scriver’s prime work was realistic figures, well-cast and patined in the classic style of the Beaux Arts bronzes we know best as heroic-sized monuments and as the Western bronzes in the Oval Office.  As long as casting took enormous skill, strength, and resourcefulness, the objects held their value as beautiful and precious.

Then came ceramic shell casting, which I call “chicken fried bronze” since the way one prepares the wax is by dipping it into a kind of batter or slurry, then rolling it in crushed glass over and over until when it dries it has formed a shell strong enough to hold the molten metal.  There is no need to fuss with some of the difficulties of Roman Block casting because there are not so many feeder sprues or vents to figure out and place.  Gases vent through the shell.  This was developed for machinery in the space age, strange alloys and miniscule tolerances for gears and housings.  At this point it became possible to buy a “kit” for bronze casting for a few hundred dollars, another kit for patinas, and be a foundry caster practically overnight.  A lot of bad sculptures got made into bronzes.  It was the equivalent of replacing diamonds with zircons -- the same general effect if you didn’t really know.

Most customers of bronzes depend upon the gallery to know.  The same as they depend upon the gallery to know the difference between a Russell painting and a Seltzer painting, though their work was so similar that even Seltzer’s grandson was only sure it was a Seltzer because he had a print of the original painting that included the part at the bottom where the original signature had been cut off.  The usual Russell experts had said it was Russell’s.  Cutting the signature off the bottom first added a zero to the value of the painting -- then finding the proof of the artist dropped the zero back off.  Maybe more.

Gordon Monroe and his work on the right.

Fiberglass had been around for quite a while but mostly for things like boats, big fabricated objects like -- oh!  Monuments!!   Much cheaper than bronze.  But heroes are far more ephemeral these days anyway. Gordon Monroe, enrolled Blackfeet and sculptor in his own right, had begun as Bob Scriver’s fiberglass specialist.  At Bob’s death the two huge rodeo sculptures Monroe made in fiberglass were moved to Babb Public School near St. Mary’s Lake.  Then the bucking bull was moved back to what had been the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife.  In the process, it was dropped and broken.  Monroe was able to repair it, which is another advantage of fiberglass. 

"An Honest Try" by Bob Scriver

The wonders of plastic continued on until at last it was possible to buy little blocks of stuff called “Sculpy” that were indeed just like the wonder material that the peppy journalist had described thirty years earlier.  It will stay soft until baked in an ordinary kitchen stove. Mostly used by hobby doll-makers or jewelry makers, Monroe uses it to make Blackfeet figures, slightly bigger than the ones Scriver made.

Cosmic buttons

Sculpey is a brand of polymer clay made by Polyform Products in the United States. Sculpey was first created in the early 1960s.  In the late 1960s it was then discovered that this compound could be molded, baked, sanded, drilled, carved and painted. “Sculpey closely resemblesFimo, another brand of polymer clay. Sculpey is a less rigid composition which better suits modeling, while Fimo is better suited for twisting into cane and bead making because the colors do not blend together as readily.” 


Angus calf

Even I can make figures of Sculpey and Fimo, though I always make animals lying down to avoid the need for armatures.

Friday, February 14, 2014




CM Russell Museum with portrait of Charlie by Bob Scriver

The Western art scene has begun with the first event being “The Russell,” the big Great Falls Auction that the GF Ad Club used to stage in order to help subsidize the Russell Museum.  Now it’s managed by the Museum itself or some sub-group.  Actually, it’s a lot more like outright advertising than it used to be, including the auction of dinners in fancy places, resort time, and face time with artists.  Strangely, it’s one of the earliest auctions because it’s Charlie’s birthday, but it’s also the farthest north and sometimes gets caught in a blizzard.  Up here even North American Indian Days in July sometimes gets snow.

Brian Dippie

The major non-artist award at the auction will go to Brian Dippie and I could not be more pleased.  This is the wise Canadian expert, professor, and author who endorsed “Bronze Inside and Out,” and wrote the introduction to it.  He really “got it.”  He has been a quiet and penetrating expert on Russell, Catlin, and the general context of Western art, a strong counterpoint to the opportunists and wheeler/dealers who ordinarily slide around in the gray areas.
Charlie Beil and Two Guns Whitecalf

The catalog for the auction is online:   The software is a little tricky.  There is no Scriver art except for one small version of the portrait of Charlie Russell that Bob did in monument size for the grounds of the museum.  A remnant of Fred Renner’s estate, it's being sold in a group with some Charlie Beilhorses.  Beil is VERY much undervalued, underpromoted and undercollected.  As for Scriver, people seem to be sitting on what they own.  The work is not out moving around except for the small pieces done late in his life. There are too many pirated and unauthorized copies out there for a non-expert to mess with.  Of course, with an accurate provenance, the value can’t be lost.

Most of the artists in this auction were not born yet when it began.  Many of the stalwart original participants are dead now, or in too poor health to be active.  I see few Cowboy Artists of America members.  The two pace setters seem to be Charlie Fritz with his vast panoramas and Tom Gideon with his near-fauvist hot-color iconic arrays and tipis.  One of the more entertaining pieces (and few sculptures) is a Greg Kelsey portrait of young Charlie just back from the saloon and waltzing his wife. ( I HOPE that’s his wife!  And that it WAS the saloon!)  The “in the style of Russell” niche is filled by Steve Selzer.  I don’t see any Ace Powells.  I see two Fery’s -- one I’m surprised was included and the other one a good example.

N.C. Wyeth

The cover of the catalogue is N.C. Wyeth, but the depiction is of a fur-trappers’ fort.  Double tension here pulls between a granddaddy illustrator from back east of the sort who helped Russell perfect his skills, and the myth of the free-standing creative genius springing from the Western landscape.  Selling art, as opposed to creating art, is always in tension between directing value at something unique and emplacing it within a profitable context, between what is startling and what is merely a good example.  The genius of the collector is educating his or her eye so as to recognize each for what it is, which is why it’s important to flip through catalogues, not just noting prices and provenance, but also opening up to color, composition, narrative, moment chosen, and so on.  In this case, the execution is excellent.  Judging by the toques and capotes, this is a French fort -- possibly not so Western or even not  American.  Quebecois?

But then, the strange provenance of the actual expansion and endowment of the Russell Museum has been as much a phenomenon of back East aficionadoes as of local fondness for a known character.  It has produced difficulties never expected, esp. as men with fortunes in mineral extraction and other exploitations of the resources of the prairie establish heritage museums and collections across the continent.  The supply of nimble and informed directors has been even more problematic -- some are a little too good and some are scrambling to acquire skills.  They're nomadic as much as academic.

Gene Autry

The Russell is famous for its quick turnover of curators and directors.  The present occupant of that hot seat is Michael Duchemin (French for “of the road”) most recently at the “Autry” in LA, another personality-based museum, but with a Hollywood vibe.  Gene Autry was probably the most all-time successful cowboy-singer businessman ever.
Charles Fletcher Lummis

The museum became the center of a controversy when it acquired the entire Southwest Museum of the American Indian, another funky crumbling personality-based collection that was much beloved locally. Charles Fletcher Lummis was an anthropologist, historian, journalist, and photographer who created the Southwest Society, which was the western branch of the Archaeological Institute of America. He . . . opened the Southwest Museum in 1907. The museum moved from Downtown Los Angeles to its current location in Mt. Washington in 1914, and has been there ever since.”  

Darrell Kipp and Shirley Crowshoe, representing the Piegan Institute,were commissioned to evaluate the Walter McClintock photos that are housed there.  McClintock was a devoted annual visitor to the Blackfeet in the early 1900’s.  He wrote and illustrated “The Old North Trail,” an early and comprehensive documentation of the Blackfeet tribe that is one of the most trustworthy accounts.  Kipp said the museum was so chockablock with kachina dolls that they had to move them repeatedly to get at the photos.  Since the reputation of the dolls is that if disturbed they affect weather, they were a little trepidatious at first, but then began to joke about what and where things were unaccountably happening across the country.  Very few Indian artists are in the auction.

The present curator is Sarah Burt -- I think maybe the third female curator.  When I first moved back, I made it a point to go around and introduce myself, since Bob Scriver’s career was closely parallel with the museum, but it soon became apparent that these were people from elsewhere who had their own agenda.  Much of it is “identity branding” of artists -- that is, selling sizzle for the actual steaks -- which is the same thing as “genre platform” for writers.  Much of the sizzle is the idea that these painters are all cowboys, but in terms of painting, I am more impressed by the women artists in the catalogue.

Jay Contway

As alternative venues, often more local, there are several parallel events: the Western Heritage Artists Association Art Show, the Jay Contway and Friends Art ShowMarch in Montana (an art show and auction presented by the Coeur d'Alene Art Auction and Manitou Galleries), a Montana version of the Wild Bunch Art Show, and theWestern Masters Art Show.  In the past motel rooms have become mini-galleries for individual artists and the atriums of the motels became circulating meeting spaces.  March in Montana makes almost as much money as the main auction.  (Millions.)

Wickedly, I suspect that part of the success of this event is that Montana has very weak laws concerning art: sources, authenticating, transporting, copyright, and so on.  I think things cooled with the lawsuit that arose out of a dealer suing Steve Seltzer for identifying a purported C.M. Russell painting as actually a work by his grandfather,Olaf Seltzer, who was so close to Charlie in friendship and work that they are supposed to have painted some canvases together.  The speculating dealers not only lost a zero off the value of their piece of art, they were fined.  Perhaps they woke up to the force of the actual origin of the work.  We ain't all rubes.

Art is valued for the prestige of owning high-value pieces.  An effective strategy is to buy work that is below consciousness, then to promote it as forcefully as possible until it becomes a known marker for sophistication and wealth.  I think of two men, each of whom owned a fine race horse.  They arranged to “buy” each other’s horses for a million dollars.  Then their million dollar race horses could command very high stud fees.  The CMR is about stud fees.  A person with an educated eye for horseflesh can do pretty well.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Bart the Bear!

This piece is for sale at

Good Boy Bart - The Bear & Doug Seus

Bob Scriver, Good Boy Bart - The Bear & Doug Seus
Artwork Details
18 X 19 (Depth: 14) in (45.72 X 48.26 (Depth: 35.56) cm)
Creation Date:  

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review of "Bronze Inside and Out"

BRONZE INSIDE AND OUT Review from “Alberta History”, Summer, 2008

Mary Scriver loves to write and she has chosen an ideal topic -- Bob Scriver, her late husband, a sculptor of international fame. A resident of Browning, Montana, he is particularly remembered for his bronzes of Indians, rodeo cowboys, and prominent figures, and prominent figures. Included among them is a 53 piece series of bronzes of Blackfoot culture entitled “No More Buffalo,” a 33 piece set entitled “Rodeo in Bronze,” and individual figures such as Eric Harvie of Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, rodeo star Casey Tibbs, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, and others.

In this book, Mary also tells her own story, of how she came to Browning and her experiences with the Blackfoot people. She met her husband there and tells of his life and accomplishments in an engaging and literary style.

Bob was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in 1914 where his father owned a store. After a stint at teaching, he opened a taxidermy shop which grew into a foundry for his sculptures. As one who grew up with the Blackfoot, he had a keen interest in their cultures, and participated with them in their ceremonies. His love for them is reflected in his many sculptures. He also collected many artifacts, as had his father, to preserve a disappearing culture.

In 1990 he became the centre of controversy when he feared his entire Indian collection would be seized from under a newly-passed “Repatriation of Indian Artifacts Act.” To prevent this from happening, he took his collection to Canada and sold it to the Provincial Museum of Alberta for $1 million.

This whole story of Bob Scriver is a fascinating one, and a good read.


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. These new phenomena of slice ‘n dice, bring-’em-faster auctions in which 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, 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 it is 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 feet 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.