Today, January 29, 2009, is the tenth anniversary of the death of Robert MacFie Scriver. I jogged the Great Falls Tribune to see if they might note that fact, but they didn’t. They are absorbed in their struggle to prevent their own death as a newspaper. The actual paper has been shrinking in measurement, the ad revenue is down as it is in all media, “headquarters” is busy trying to decide what to axe next (they aren’t in Montana), reporters are over-loaded, and no one knows exactly what counts as news or whom to believe anyway. The Lee-owned newspapers are consolidating services, turning back towards the good old Anaconda-coiled world. Why gone those times? Maybe they’re circling back, just temporarily out of sight.
The positive notch about Bob Scriver is that his biography is written and was published in Canada by the University of Calgary Press. “Bronze Inside and Out.” I’ve been asked to sign copies at the CM Russell Museum benefit auction in mid-January. The Ad Club-organized soiree is also a plus, constantly re-energized and consistently growing in spite of being nearly a half-century old.
However, the Montana Historical Society refuses to speak to me, even as they unsuccessfully try to raise money for a new building. They told me bluntly that everything belongs to THEM now and they will do what they please with it. Montana Humanities has struck me from their list of authors invited to the Montana Festival of the Book in Missoula, evidently because I’m uncontrollable.
The only entity that appears to appreciate Bob’s actual estate is the Royal Alberta Museum, the institution that Bob wanted to have everything. However, the artifact collection that caused so much contention (including the curse put on Phil Stepney, their director, that may or may not have resulted in his death from a rare cancer) has been at least partially dispersed, the Sacred Materials going back to the elders of the tribe, who sold at least some of them to tribal individuals on the Montana side of the line. I’m not sure I object to that. The Royal Alberta Museum did mount an exhibit of the Blackfeet bronzes and did invite Bob’s sister-in-law, Helene DeVicq, an integral part of his work who lives in Edmonton, to attend their opening.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which was given custody of all the full-mounts from the Scriver museum, and who for a while provided employment for Arnold Olsen, the dismissed MHS director who made the transaction for the Scriver estate, will not respond to my visits, phone calls or emails.
Bob divorced me forty years ago and as his “third wife of four,” I have no legal claims. In Montana, which lags a bit in social assumptions, people believe that all former wives are predators who hate their former spouses and crave money. In this case the description better fits the fourth wife. But as the only surviving wife, a year younger than Bob’s daughter, I have rather slipped over into a daughter-like role. This is recognized by Bob’s Quebec cousin, Margaret Meeks, gracefully aging in a retirement home.
Bob’s children, produced by his first marriage, died in his lifetime. The five grandchildren are in their forties now, solidly middle-aged. One is a contractor, one is a beverage distributor, one is a testing lab administrator, one is a CPA, and one has had a warrant issued for her arrest because of a forgery charge. The great-grandchildren are college-aged. None is married yet as far as I know: they don’t keep in touch. One is an international fencing athlete (Ariel DeSmet). None are artists. None carry the Scriver name.
Siyeh, the wholly-owned business subsidiary of the Blackfeet Tribe, is running the Blackfeet Heritage Center in the former Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife. Siyeh also accepted custody of the two major fiberglass monumental rodeo sculptures. David Cree Medicine, Bob’s foundry foreman, is doing well, working for Siyeh. His father, Carl, continues to create art and shows at the Indian Art show that runs parallel to the CM Russell Museum benefit auction. Flatiron Ranch is in the joint-custody of Nature Conservancy and the Blackfeet Land Trust. I know nothing about it except that Googling is complicated by a housing development near Hamilton also called “Flatiron Ranch.”
These observations are only about the local and smallest circle of Bob’s world. I figure there are three circles where Scriver’s work have significance. The local is based in large part on people who actually knew Bob and visited the museum or dealt with him in some way. This is the least significant in terms of his work, though it includes a few people who have tried to get rich from what they could siphon off, including Flathead entrepreneurs producing illegal copies.
The second “circle” is the world of Western art, kind of a double-yolked egg that is half “cowboy” artists and half historical recorders of the West as a place. Cowboy Artists of America, which began explicitly as a friendship group, was so successful that as soon as the founders had been removed by Father Time, the second generation has worked hard to make it a profit-aimed group. The controversies and power-struggles among them have interfered with that goal.
The other “yolk,” the Morans, Bierstadts, Catlins, and Russells, are a bridge to a larger art world, currently beset with some of the same problems as the other humanities spheres, such as dance, music, and publishing. Over the years institutions have been gifted or have acquired works of art as “investments” worth tax credits as well as prestige and scholarly value. Now the dark side of the equation has come to the fore as the institutions, much diminished by investment collapse, try to get the money back out of the art. The most recent, perhaps wishing to avoid the struggles over trying to market a beloved piece of art, is Brandeis University, which proposes to simply close down their Rose Museum and auction ALL the art. Which goes to show that the executors of Bob’s will were ahead of their times when they closed down his museum and auctioned his collections: his Russells, his Remingtons, his Rungiuses, and so on while trucking his own works down to Helena to be locked up, not even unpacked. As the former director said to me, “I don’t much care about art. I like the saddles and wagons, the paraphenalia.”
The wheel continues to turn. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine.