Thursday, July 09, 2009


When times get tough, the scams multiply, especially among those who had already gambled on the good times rolling on forever. Art scams are often the most ingeniously successful of all since most ordinary people have been taught to consider “art” something mysterious and quite unlike ordinary life, so that they don’t know how to judge “deals.” The most recent scam, I’m told, is about Scriver bronzes and involves the usual cast of characters who always try to twist Bob Scriver’s career to their own advantage. They are a little knot of bronze casters and professionals from mostly just over the mountains.

I’d been hearing about how “Bob gave me this wax of such-and-such and he said I could get it cast however and whenever I want to.” Right. Bob the Control Freak suddenly becomes generous. Then there were the people who said they had found a hydrocal (hard plaster) in a hock shop and had the foundry make them a casting. (Perfectly possible, but sort of dubious. Copyright law is more stringent than people know.) Before Bob’s death he found it convenient to sell sculptures commissioned by entrepreneurs. They would be responsible for casting (they cast huge editions, up to a hundred castings) and selling. When the molds in Bob’s estate were destroyed as required by his will, the molds for these commissioned pieces owned by entrepreneurs were not.

If you can’t follow all this, it sort of proves my point, eh? It gets worse.

Especially in the case of bronzes, which have always been relatively easy to replicate and which can now be reproduced easily by laser-tracing that is recorded in computers (a technique -- like many metal-working techniques -- that was developed for machine parts requiring precision replication), the physical object is easily reproduced. But in the end it must be cast by melting the bronze and pouring it into some kind of mold. The ceramic shell mold system (“chicken-fried” -- that is, dipped in silica batter and baked) does not produce the finely accurate and detailed surface of Roman block or investment casting. Anyway, grifters want a product fast. They don’t have time to fool around with quality.

And you can tell. Some of the Scriver bronzes that float through the auctions are pretty low quality castings and their patinas are even worse. You’d think the experts would see that, but both a noted Western gallery and the Montana Historical Society were taken in by bad casting and bad patina on a Scriver bronze made at the beginning of his career as a tourist trinket. The castings didn’t sell. The dealers did not blame the foundry/grifter -- they concluded that Scriver bronzes have no market. Clearly the customers had more educated eyes than the “experts.”

This is why “provenance” or the history of each casting is so very important as a way of sorting out the real from the inauthentic and is why the Montana Historical Society’s refusal to make the Scriver records that were in his estate available to the public is so damaging to the owners of Scriver bronzes. From the beginning, because of the practices surrounding Charlie Russell’s art, Bob Scriver was intent on maintaining accurate records of who bought what. This was so vital to the value of each bronze that at one point he was sued by Wolf Pogzeba for not providing the specific numbered casting Wolf had ordered. (Bob won the lawsuit, but probably in part because the judge didn’t understand numbered castings.)

The newest scam is a claim that Bob’s work in progress, still in the clay, was given by Lorraine (Bob’s fourth wife) to her son by a previous marriage, who has held them all this time. In fact, in the days immediately after Bob’s death they were transferred to one of the chicken-fried foundrymen. This man was NOT Lorraine’s son. Lorraine had no sons nor daughters either. At a certain stage of drunkenness she would lament her inability to produce a baby. The grifters are NOT claiming that this son was a genetic son of Bob. They’re counting on confusion over the lives and identities of his wives.

Bob had a vasectomy during WWII, partly because his first wife, Alice, said she would divorce him if he didn’t. Two weeks after the procedure she DID divorce him and went on to have four more children with a second husband. One of those was male. His name was John Skogen, after his father, and he had a bad heart, like his father. If he didn’t die, he’d be in his fifties. It’s possible these art coyotes have found him, but I doubt it. Lorraine never knew him.

Bob’s second wife, Jeanette, was unable to have children and married Bob in part because that would make her the stepmother of two children. I was the third wife and have never had children, never wanted children, and married Bob in part because he could NOT have children. I am the only living wife.

When Bob died, Lorraine went into a rage and then began trying to consolidate everything into money with lots of help from opportunists, prominently including the art coyote foundry. Bob’s will was so poorly written that it left huge loopholes, for instance, the works in progress, the entrepreneur molds, and the books that Bob wrote. The lawyer himself was on shaky territory since his idea of a solution was to make himself the “king of the mountain,” (head of a foundation that would own everything) which was fine until a meaner and cleverer hyena came along and was able to collude with the judges concerned.

For some artists, John Clymer or Charlie Beil for instance, the family is the safeguard of the heritage, but Bob Scriver’s family was shattered and at each other’s throats. I was lucky to have been divorced from Bob for almost thirty years when he died, so that I was clear from the fall-out. But the coyotes were unlucky that I was so much younger than Bob and neither a drunk nor a dummy. Not only that, I never remarried so my name is still Scriver. Even worse, I’m still here in the little town where Bob’s daughter grew up. She was a year older than me and her name is enough like mine (i.e. Margaret) that I can be misrepresented as her.

It’s a wicked world. Buyer beware.

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