Saturday, December 19, 2009
A BRONZE FOR CHRISTMAS?
"Return of the Blackfeet Raiders"
It’s a little late to be giving advice for Christmas presents, but maybe the people who buy Scriver bronzes for gifts are able to expedite delivery. Certainly they can buy by phone or maybe even online. So here’s an overview of what Scriver bronzes are auctioning for these days. That’s not the same as buying from a gallery or private owner which is probably the way most important Scriver bronzes change hands, usually when the previous owner dies and the inheritors sell.
I don’t have enough money to subscribe to the AskArt.com database, which keeps track of an avalanche of information, but the list below is free from www.robertscriver.com which appears to be based in Taos/Santa Fe. I don’t know more than that about the website, but I will add notes about the bronzes.
I should also add another thing. One of the problems when buying bronzes is avoiding recasts and illegal casts. On the other end, casts made by Scriver at the Bighorn Foundry are MORE valuable, especially the ones from the Sixties. They were all cast using the “Roman block” investment method, which preserves much more surface quality and were patined in a traditional French way. We learned to do this together and it was not easy. If it makes you feel better, the crew was all Blackfeet.
But the new thing to be added is that it is now possible to discover the “DNA” of bronze. Bronze is an alloy, a mix of metals. By analyzing what molecules were combined in what proportions, it is possible to determine the casting “pedigree” of a bronze. Ours were usually Herculoy, a patented silicon bronze alloy.
Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea
25" x 15" x 18"
This sculpture would be a version of the heroic-sized statue in Fort Benton that was dedicated on the Fourth of July, 1976. It would have been cast after that, possibly in New York at John Spring’s Modern Art Foundry, who cast the monument. Look for a foundry mark on it.
26"x 25" x 14"
Scriver’s rodeo series, a spectacular breakthrough in 1970, shows a bareback bronc leaping so that only one rear hoof is touching the ground. Bob created one large piece for each event plus a portrait of each animal or contestant involved. I do not know of anyone recasting these, so this is likely to be a Bighorn Foundry casting. Many artists have created their own version of the pose.
The White Flags
A later sculpture, this is a graceful animal group, probably cast via ceramic shell casting. One can tell by looking inside the bronze. If you are buying a bronze with a wooden or stone base attached, ask for the base to be removed so you can look inside. Ceramic shell material is hard to get off the metal, which is why it destroys subtle surface detail, and the underside will show vestiges of it.
Return of the Blackfoot Riders
Created in the early days of Bob’s career, the four warriors on horseback make a complex group with a lot of detail, all of which was authenticated by Claude Schaffer, then curator at the Museum of the Plains Indian, across the road from the Scriver Studio. George Montgomery bought a hydrocal (hard plaster) version of this in 1961 and sent it to a foundry to be translated to bronze. In the process, of course, it had to be broken apart and he gave the pieces to the CMR Museum. I don’t know what they did with them. I’ve never seen that bronze, so I don’t know how well it was done, but I’d be skeptical. It would be considerably less valuable than a Bighorn Foundry casting unless you’re a big George Montgomery fan and want the story.
Tall Tales to Tell
I don’t know this piece. I only know it exists.
The Winchester Rider
This was a promotional commission, much pushed by B. Byron Price in his role at the time. The idea was to associate the rider with “Yellow Boy,” the famous Winchester rifle with brass butt plate and so on. That long gun is often in Westerns and features in paintings.
Explorers at the Portage
25.5" x 29" x 16"
A second Lewis & Clark monument was commissioned for Great Falls where it stands near the giant American flag. York and the Newfoundland were included with the two expedition leaders. This would be a smaller version of that heroic-sized statue or possibly just a few of the figures there. A one-off fiberglas casting of the two monuments combined was given to the Lewis & Clark Interpretative Center in Great Falls.
Layin’ the Trap #4
This is the major rodeo series portrayal of team roping. The only one I know of that has been auctioned is the one Asgar Mikkelson accepted as payment for the photos he took for Bob’s book, “An Honest Try,” which shows all the rodeo bronzes plus descriptions of the events. If it’s Asgar’s casting (he is deceased), the dedication to him is written on it and would increase the value. Story always increases value.
17" x 11" x 8"
Judging from the dimensions, this is a smaller version of the portrait of Buffalo Bill that stands in the foyer of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Many times photographed, the statue is familiar to many and would have special meaning to fans of Buffalo Bill.
The Moon of the Yellow Leaves
Another of the smaller graceful groups of deer that Bob loved to do. Though the market was for Western bronzes, Bob’s heart was with the animals and his first affiliation was with the Society of Animal Artists. But this is a later piece and probably ceramic shell cast.
AskArt.com shows 326 Scriver bronzes passing through auctions. It makes a big difference to know WHICH auctions, since some are just threshing floors cleaning out the sweepings in a hurry while others showcase and urge sales far more. Of course, the whole thing about auctions is that it depends on who is there and bidding, though that’s now distorted by people able to bid online. They need to know what they’re doing as bronze is a medium hard to evaluate via a photo. Probably they will have someone on the scene who gives them a inspection report or they will know the source of the bronze. There’s a public/private split in the knowledge of what is auctioned.
Scriver bronzes are also complicated by his late-in-life practice of selling casting rights for small commissioned sculptures. Entrepreneurs cast editions of a hundred, which seriously diminishes value (twenty-four is considered a lot), and they were almost all locally cast in small ceramic shell foundries. Some are tastelessly patined with gaudy color, and those are often illegal. Also, incredibly, some people with early plaster tourist trade figurines have cast them. The best Scriver bronzes are not likely to show up in auctions, but these smaller, lesser-value pieces circulate constantly as little more than gambling tokens for those who use art as though it were the stock market. To get a realistic idea of fair prices, it would be necessary to separate the two levels.