In the Sixties when I lived in Browning and was married to Bob Scriver, there were three artists whom I considered to be beyond all the other run-of-the-mill cowboy artists. All three had that same high opinion of themselves and probably had doubts about the other two. One was Bob, of course; one was Harry Jackson; and one was Paul Dyck. They were extraordinary, extreme, charismatic, productive and all three thought they were immortal. Now two are dead, so it’s up to Harry to survive.
Yesterday the Great Falls Tribune ran the story of Paul Dyck’s artifact collection, worth $22.5 million, being given to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY. I hadn’t known that he died in 2006. When I was working on Bob’s biography, I contacted him and realized then that he wasn’t much younger than Bob (3 years). I didn’t know that he was having the same difficulty in creating a permanent home for his collection as Bob had with his, but in a different way. We’d always known that the Scriver collection was chickenfeed compared to the Dyck collection. Paul told us so himself.
Bob’s adversaries were “up close and personal” since his artifacts were Blackfeet materials from here, collected in Bob’s lifetime, and the threat of forcible repatriation seemed very real, though legally it only applied to federally owned materials. After Bob sold the bulk of his artifacts to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, that institution returned all the sacred materials to the Canadian Blackfeet. The remainder that Bob kept, including his personal ceremonial materials, either disappeared while in the hands of his widow or was seized from the Montana Historical Society by Federal Fish and Wildife and repatriated to individuals of the tribe, which meant they went back on the market and disappeared forever.
Paul Dyck’s collection, though it has a core of Blackfeet materials because his parents’ contribution was made in southern Alberta, also includes other Indian nations. Some pieces were collected in the eighteenth century and had been held in Europe. (Only the Catholic church has older or finer pieces, which early missionaries sent “home.”) Neither collection had ever been exhibited and Bob’s hasn’t been yet, since the Royal Alberta Museum has not had the room nor, they claim, the time or money to get it all organized and presented. The Dyck Collection was transferred as an estate to the BBHC and is intact. Probably this collection SHOULD go to the Buffalo Bill, which is one of the few institutions prepared to deal with it and, anyway, was the institution with which Dyck worked most closely. They have the muscle, the money and the friends in high places to make this work properly.
It was the Sixties when the Dycks first pulled into Browning in a big old “Jimmy” -- a three-quarter-ton enclosed truck meant for travel in the SW desert where they had a ranch near Rimrock, AZ. Paul was handsome but short, so he wore boots with doggin’ heels for a bit of a boost, and had long-ago converted to wearing custom-made denim outfits with cowboy tailoring and a wide flat-brimmed, high-crowned, black “Sundance” hat with a silver concho band. He had long hair and a “Van Dyck” like Buffalo Bill. (Bob had the beard but his mother threw a fit if his hair got very long.) Paul was entitled to the beard since he really WAS descended from THE Van Dyck. He wore big silver and turquoise rings. So did Star, his wife, who was tall and very beautiful in a Melina Mercouri way, full of vigor and life but a peace-maker, which was an asset to Paul. He and Bob always circled each other like two roosters sizing each other up. I fell in love with the Dycks right off, which didn’t help Bob’s feelings much. Now it appears that Paul won “big time,” because he had a son who was competent and alert. John Dyck recommends this book: Artists’ Estates: Reputations in Trust. I just now ordered it.
Paul and Star had become protectors and adopted family for Hart Schultz, half-Blackfeet son of James Willard Schultz, so they came to Browning with Naomi, Hart’s wife, to put his ashes by his beloved mother, Fine Shield Woman, and uncle, Yellow Wolf. Hart didn’t get along with his father that well, but his ashes are buried on the same bluff overlooking Two Medicine River out past the Holy Family Mission near the Mad Plumes and also near the Gustafson ranch. (Sid Gustafson takes care of those graves, even when he has to swim his horse across the full irrigation canal at the foot of the cliff.) Hart, who often went by “Lone Wolf” was eulogized by Paul in the Winter, 1972, issue of “Montana, the Magazine of Western History.”
Paul Dyck painted in the manner of the Old Masters, egg tempera base with oil-paint glazes, many many thin layers. His works are representational but not realistic; that is, you could tell what the picture was “supposed to be” but it was hallucinatory, iconic, and haunting. He was not your usual “Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel” member nor would he ever be. Passionate, independent, even arrogant, he was driven by the legendary forces that make someone an extraordinary artist with the extra impetus of a major heritage to embody. He did not hold back, even after Star was gone because of cancer.
I called John Dyck, Paul’s son, to make formal condolences and was embarrassed to burst into tears, but John handled it. I get the impression that he is capable of handling a lot of things, maybe even his father -- up to a point, though few artists leave anything like an orderly estate. Certainly he has a good business head and a strong wife of his own, from the sound of it. For an artist, this is a blessing indeed. For the rest of us, it is also a blessing because this art and these artifacts will not be scattered by those after the bones of profit.