I regret that I have to go back to filtering comments with one of those maddening "copy this" gizmos. I was getting too much spam. I suppose when I have time, I ought to figure out where it's coming from. In the meantime, if you really need to talk to me, do it the old-fashioned way: landline telephone. Information has my listing.

SOCIAL MEDIA

My name shows up on google+ and twitter, but I only monitor and will not add you. I do NOT do Facebook though someone with the same name does. Please use plain email. My phone landline is in the phone book. I have no cell phone.

Other Blogs by me

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE ART OF BOB SCRIVER, PLEASE GO TO: www.scriverart.blogspot.com.

Notes from Alvina Krause between 1957-1961 are posted at www.Krausenotes.blogspot.com


TWO REBLOGS:
Fiction about Indians at www.willowsticks.blogspot.com
Essays about Indians at www.siksikaskinitsiman.blogspot.com



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

HOG POOP

Today's post is from Paul Wheeler, who has many a wild story to tell!


Hog poop. A subject all it's own. In free range hogs, not much of a problem, but containment hogs...Pee U. As we designed and built the hog facility a bit at a time, we went with pit construction, meaning all the poo collected in pits that required frequent pumping and dispersal in the fields and plowing it under. The nature of the operation, being what it was, the pits were very full before we acquired a "honey wagon". Ben and I loaded up and headed to Vaughn, Montana, to a farm auction which included just what we needed. Ben introduced me to my very first strip club experience in Missoula on the way through. Ben was sacked out in back of the truck on the way to Vaughn, so I just kept driving on to Giant Springs, arriving in the wee hours and sacked out myself until the auction. We were successful in acquiring the honey wagon but towing the huge thing back was a slow and sometimes trying experience, as they're more designed for slow towing behind a tractor than highway speeds.

I was workin’ on the roof of the finishing barn when Ben backed the pump up to the pits for the first pumping. He carefully hooked up the hose, pulled the bowling ball "cork" on the pit and engaged the PTO.  [power take-off] He was standing at the back of the wagon, admiring the jerky hose doing its thing, sucking the pit dry, when the connection let loose, giving him a ten thousand gallon gusher of a shit bath. He was so pissed or shocked that he just stood there and took it all! Up on the roof, we were paralyzed between laughter and fear. Ben's a very mellow sort, but when he's mad, he's real mad. Then too, no one was real excited at the thought of having to help him clean up.

Growing a hog farm, seems we were always at least one step behind in building the facility. Before the finishing barn was complete, we had hogs everywhere we could create a place. The finishing barn was attached to the rest of the hog buildings to facilitate natural and hopefully, easy movement of the animals as they grew. Concrete is the building material of choice to make it easier to keep a clean facility. At one point, the main structure was up, pits and floors poured, dividing walls poured, roof and ventilation, plumbing and electrical. Bit by bit we framed up and poured "kit-kats", our own term for the concrete pieces that would span the manure pits at the back of each enclosure. (kit-kats because they resembled the candy bar) We made up kit-kats with left over concrete from other pours, so we were always building and installing more as the building progressed. As quick as one section was completed we filled them with hogs and continued about our building.

Early one morning, I worked my way through the barns, feeding and making sure all the waterers worked, taking care of other odd jobs as I went. When I got to the finishing area, I soon noticed that 30 or more hogs were missing. My first thought is that they had escaped to the fields. After a quick look around the place I was puzzling how so many hogs could just up and disappear like that. Then I heard a grunt coming from the pit. Don't tell me...thirty hogs got loose and one by one decided to jump into a six foot deep manure pit half full of manure slurry? I went and got a flashlight and came back to investigate further and puzzled how in heck we were going to get thirty 200 pound hogs out of a six foot deep pit, half full of pig poo.

About that time, the other two hands showed up and I presented our latest predicament. We tried a few things, anything to avoid getting in there and trying to wrestle them out. The hogs rather seemed to like it down under the kit kats. We tried jamming sticks down between the kit-kats at the far end of the 100' long pit, trying to drive the pigs up to the area where where the kit-kat gap was, so we could access them. We tried slings, we tried ramps, we tried anything that came to mind with not a single rescue. Finally we realized there was no alternative, we had to go in.

Poor Rob Bob had the misfortune to be small. He was always the chosen one for the most onerous jobs on the place, like backing up the bolts in a new feed bin. Spending the whole day in a hot, sweaty bin, holding a wrench while we rat a tatted all the bolts home. Rob Bob was the first adult any of us ever gave birth to, at least that's how it felt when we had to grease him up so he could exit the small hole at the bottom.

This particular day, it was obvious he was the likely one to have to hunker down and go a hundred feet up the pit and try to herd the pigs down to Bob and I, who would try to catch shit covered, squirmy, 200 pound hogs and hoist them to dry land. Resigned, he jumped into the pit, hunkered down and sloshed his way through the mire to the far end of the pit, pushing his way past the subterranean herd and then started herding them to Bob and I. As we snagged the first one, it let out a bellering squeal that echoed like a million starving hogs. Bob and I were so involved with our own hands full, that we failed to note that the other 29 hogs turned about and ran/swam right over the top of little Rob Bob and made their escape down to the far end of the pit again. One up, 29 more to go.

When Rob Bob came up for air, we repeated the process another half dozen times. Then the ones we had already rescued for some reason I'll never understand, bowled both Bob and I over into the muck as they jumped back into the pit to join their brethren. Sorry Mary, I had to leave off there to go cry at the memory.

It was an all day, exhausting job, but we saved all of the hogs, and made certain that it couldn't happen again. Hogs are interesting critters, like humans, they can be amiable, curious, angry, emotional, mean, and clearly, sometimes stone stupid.

As an aside to this story, I thought it was interesting to note that different groups of hogs, in the same situations, had different house keeping methods. Some hogs were scrupulously  clean, while other groups reveled in filth. I was always curious to know if there was a particular leader or enforcer but never detected one, as they were all from the same litters or age groups.

Monday, November 29, 2010

GOODBYE, MEADVILLE/LOMBARD THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL

My ministerial seminary was Meadville/Lombard Theological School, which was a merger of two previous theological school incarnations.  Now it is merging with Andover/Newton, though it says it is only “collaborating.”  This is cross-denominational but sociologically similar.  The Hyde Park buildings are being sold.  Alumni have been asked to react.  This is my reaction.

I came at my post-seminary professional life with UUism through extension ministry, circuit-riding among four small fellowships in Montana, some of which were quite frank about saying that a sermon on Sunday and maybe one class during the week was NOT worth what they were paying out in pledges to have me coming around.  At the end of the subsidy the circuit collapsed, but the fellowships DID grow a bit.  This was what the denomination wanted -- it was the goal of the denomination because it meant the existence of the denomination.  Grow or die.  It was a sharper issue for the Universalists, since the culture in which that denomination had grown (rural, humanist Christian) had faded away, forcing them to merge with the Unitarians, a chafing fit.

Ever since I encountered UUism as a lay person in 1975, the emphasis has been on growth, partly because some major blood-lettings over black empowerment and Vietnam anti-war sentiment diminished our numbers.  In the Pacific Northwest District the powerful male ministers were mostly church-builders, organization developers, consolidators.  Running a lively and productive pledge-drive was important.  Portland First Unitarian Church was a leader among downtown churches, acquiring property until they owned the block.  That was thirty years ago.  Last summer, I’m told, the church had to shut down for a month in the middle of the summer in order to save money.   The big Portland demographic boom that had been bringing in the people had gone quiet.

It’s not just in Portland and it’s not just our denomination.  When I retired to this little village ten years ago, there were three ministers.  Now the Lutherans are lay-led, the Methodist circuit-rider has a three-point charge, and the priest serves -- I don’t know how many congregations.  They work very hard and make little money. 

Not that I’m such an idealist that I reject money.  To show how crass I can be, I enrolled at Meadville/Lombard because it was a back door to the University of Chicago.  Not just the Div School -- the whole blinkin’ establishment plus the “Cluster” seminaries.  I reveled in it.  I could never have afforded to go without UU support and I’m grateful.   I’ve tried to use what I learned wisely in service to the people around me, in a kind of community and maybe Internet ministry now.  I was a snob, worming my way to the center:  Toulmin, Marty, Browning, Gustafson, Homans (did you see that his daughter has written the definitive history of the ballet?), Schreiter, Maclean, Stern, Stern and Stern.  All the time I had been doing my undergrad education at NU on the other end of town (1957-61) and being artsy-smartsy, I thought about Hyde Park.  The real elite.  I think I had Life magazine fever, that view of the world.  Geniuses, you know.

A good dose of 19th century reservation cured all that.  Ten years of people yelling at me to get my feet on the ground, and I sort of woke up.  Then the five years of nitty gritty as an animal control officer cinched it.  Ministry seemed like a good way to marry idealism to achievement.  Still I craved the big ideas, not the big churches.  But M/L, except for Eliade, had no use for my kind of big ideas.  They were status hungry.  The students who were most in love with ministry as such left.  Odd. 

Looking back at Meadville, my fond memories are for the buildings -- not the people.  I loved the little suite at the back of Fleck House, even with the din of change-ringing bell practice on Saturday morning.  I loved the library stacks when we still had keys and could go over at 3AM to look for a needed book.  I loved the top floor “hierophany,” the marble unisex bathroom that Mircea Eliade rendered fragrant with his pipe.  So now they’re all either sold or on the market.

My home minister had been the head of the Fellowship Committee, which put us into an odd predicament.  I had to make good for his sake; he had to be hard on me for my sake.  But I screwed up a lot and events were against me.  My CPE was miserable because a failed UU minister supervisor was out for revenge.  It didn’t help that Mt. St. Helens, which I had seen daily out my childhood bedroom window, exploded and my granddaughter died in a car crash.   My internship embroiled me in strange things I didn’t understand.  The library caught on fire and I was blamed since I was the first one there.  I was a student member of the Board of Trustees and made an indignant cartoon presentation when I ought to have expressed limitless gratitude.  Then Emil Gudmundson and Russ Lockwood saved me with their prairie hard heads by devising the Montana ministry. 

An interim year in Kirkland was great fun, even though by that time the PNWD was overrun with female UU ministers.  The next place, Saskatoon, is the most brutal place I have ever lived and I’m not talking about the weather.  The congregation was turned in on itself, trying to survive.  The larger culture hated Indians and women.  The weather was the mildest part of the deal.  None of this was the fault of M/L but in no way was the education I got at M/L useful.  To be fair, the Div School stuff wasn’t that helpful either.  Dog-catching was the most useful experience.  The Unitarian ministry in Canada in general was about dominance and strategy.  The Canadian wing didn’t merge with the Universalists, a compassion-based denomination, and maybe that was part of the problem.  Soon the CUC separated from the UUA, ripping the PNWD in half.  I turned in on myself and became self-indulgent.  Then I went back home to the rez, finally admitting that I didn’t want to shuttle around the country being an interim, which is how most older female ministers end up.  A new church every year.

Since then Meadville has changed and changed and changed again.  The tough requirements were lowered, the MA from the Div School faded out, more and more people were older and female (bigger and blander), more and more faculty of various kinds.  The denomination has also changed.  For all that time trying to grow, the chief instrument was market research, which mean pleasing as many prospects as possible.  More dilution, more lowest common denominator, more range of interests, more mainstream society.  As far as I’m concerned, the whole thing was a sell-out.  But “denomination” as a concept is probably worn out.

Not that I don’t see the stark alternative was market or die.  As far as I’m concerned today, M/L is irrelevant.  The spring that runs through the basement is just a drain now.  The church across the way has no bell tower.  All things must end and they have.  No regrets.  It’s okay.  I’m busy.  And, wow, am I using that U of Chicago stuff !   Except NONE of the economic theory.   As the kids say, LOL.

Alan Glengyle Deale celebrates his Doctor of Divinity Degree while Mary Scriver attends to the tea samovar.
This is the big Curtis Room fireplace, often blazing in winter.  Will it still be the Curtis Room?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

PLANETARY KARMA

Johnathan Haidt and Jesse Graham went looking for moral criteria that are shared across cultures and probably are wired into babies, possibly primates.  This is what they found as explained on the vid:
http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html

In summary, there were five fundamental dimensions:


1.  Care for others, protecting them from harm.
2.  Fairness, justice in treating others equally.
3.  Loyalty to your group.
4.  Respect for tradition and legitimate authority.
5.  Purity in avoiding disgusting things.

That’s obvious -- not very interesting.  But then he starts throwing in loops and I could easily add some more.  One of the most helpful ideas is that “liberals” value care and fairness beyond the other three criteria.  But that “conservatives” value loyalty, respect and purity almost as much as the first two.  I will point out that the first two values are in the United States Constitution, while the others are seen in this country as mostly religious.  So though liberals might be comfortable as “unchurched,” the conservatives identify with their religious subgroup of the nation.  That is their group (even above nation), their authority, and their source of guidance for what is disgusting. 

Those who hold the first two values can tolerate -- even admire -- difference, innovation, and experiment.  Those who hang onto the last three values will see their very existence challenged if there are competing groups, innovative change, and social experiments.  They will be very much more worried about “disgusting” things, often defined sexually, or in terms of dirt or illness, or unrestrained behavior.  Haidt remarks amusingly that conservatives tend to obsess about “disgusting” sex, but for liberals what is “disgusting” is more likely to be food!  (Fat, sugar, bacteria.)  At this point Haidt includes “libertarians” in his kinds of political styles and finds them sometimes on one side and other times more on the other.

Later in a recent article, Haidt comes up with a new idea, speaking about what Tea Partyers “really want” as a kind of sub-category of conservatives. since its clear that though they say they want freedom, what they really want is what he calls Karma“The law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it's just a law of the universe, like gravity. . . Karma is not an exclusively Hindu idea. It combines the universal human desire that moral accounts should be balanced with a belief that, somehow or other, they will be balanced.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703673604575550243700895762.html

But wait!   It’s nice to dress this up as Karma, a natural law that builds retribution into the universe.  But these guys are not willing to wait around for the universe to get to it.  They want THEIR thumb, not God’s thumb, on the scales.  Where is humility, much less compassion?  Where is the realization that morality is conditioned by culture and that a hanging crime in one time and place is only worth a fine and imprisonment in another?

American people who see change as loss are moving to a kind of law that privileges tribe above individual and counts love as nothing, because in that harsh place of its desert origin it is the only way to survive.  I call them “Old Testament” Christians, since they have only pretended to accept the teaching of Jesus.  In American citizens is a default position for those who feel endangered.

For some Islamic immigrants who have established a diaspora of their old ways in modern cities, ancient Abramic Sharia law is trying to preserve itself in the new setting, the “civilized Western world” where the good of the whole has come to be served by the justice system, safety nets and therapies so scorned by American conservatives.  The controversy is probably best accessed through YouTube where you can see videos of men trying to explain themselves.  (Sharia law does not value women or even children, except as possessions.)

Sharia law is being conditionally accepted in civil matters where ever there is a big enough immigrant community for them to have brought their own rules with them.  It relieves the English, German, American courts from trying to decipher what these people will accept as fair, thus getting lost in issues Westerners can’t understand, thus wasting resources.  The problem comes when Sharia law regarding felonies doles out death by stoning, honor killing by families, and amputation for thefts.  This is the old Code of Hammarabi,  “an eye for an eye,” deep in the cellar of Abramic religions.  This way of thinking has no use for liberal compassion or equality, regardless of what impulses might be inborn.  Within the community of Sharia believers, this law system might be accepted and protected, but in the larger world it is an atrocity and criminal almost to the level of terrorism.

The problem for nations is keeping order while preserving national identity -- not that of the immigrant, but that of the pre-existing establishment.  What seems like a convenient bureaucratic compromise at first can become internal revolution if it is allowed to stand.  Trying to identify the natural biological morality of every individual human is one way of arguing against Sharia or intolerant conservatism without pitting one religion against another, but I don’t think it is strong enough.  It will only work after several generations have grown up in the Western world, thus assimilating.  If some Americans are not assimilated to the new world, what hope for immigrants?

We had a problem something like this at the beginning of the history of our nation.  It’s still not resolved.  When immigrants arrived, there were already systems of governance in place, some drastic and others lenient, depending on the circumstances of each tribe.  The immigrants imposed their own harsh laws, hanging many suspected horse thieves and known Indians.  They overwhelmed the Native Americans.  Then there were systems invented in which reservation laws would handle civil matters or low level offenses in ways consistent with their own culture.

As assimilation has inevitably happened, many tribes have given some matters to the state to solve, often social services like divorce or child custody.  But the FBI has kept custody of the felony level crimes -- what used to be called the “ten major crimes” which now include more than that.  The idea was that these were so significant to the larger order that federal machinery was necessary to enforce them.  The trouble has been that the federal forces don’t much care about reservation felonies and preserve the unjustified conviction that the culture is so different that intervention in murder and arson doesn’t matter.  They are “other.”

This problem Haidt is addressing is much bigger than a schism between political parties.  It is a planetary assimilation and order-preserving problem.  Its resolution amounts to a religious conversion of the world’s population.  The real question is whether we can preserve the modern order-keeping on which our lives depend, or whether re-tribalizing will force itself back to the center.  It will take a long time.  There will be many casualties and some of them will be in our power grid, our communications, our tax codes, and our understanding of compassion and justice.  Karma will prevail in the end, but the universe may not agree with our own judgments.  And our thumbs may not be heavy enough.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

THE SHARED TRAJECTORY INTO AN EXPLOSION: Barrus & Scriver

Those who have been following this blog already know what I will quickly sketch for new readers who might need some background.  Nothing deep, just that during the last four years I’ve shared “life trajectories” with Tim Barrus and Cinematheque, his art school for boys at risk because of AIDS and the many other syndemic factors in their lives.  I didn’t travel but ransacked my library, my Divinity School notes, and the Internet to understand the daily bulletins I got and to respond or pass on ideas about things rarely discussed.

Tim and I began to write together -- not merged sentences, but responding posts -- and then Tim took flight into vlogs, merging video with print, spoken word, music.  At present our separate routines are that I produce my blog every morning and he generally posts a vlog towards suppertime.  I’m on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and you’ll see from his images that he’s in Appalachia.  The boys have retreated to a distant and ancient monastic hospice where the dying can be protected.  It might seem that our work has no connection, but under the surface we are all heart-merged.

Blackfeet kids where I am can feel the knife of stigmatism.  Society handles people it doesn’t know in one of several ways:  demonizing them, making noble heroes out of them, simply ignoring them so they are invisible, or eliminating them by straightforward war or by economic snuffing.  ("Stop existing," says the world, so they hang themselves.)  All these things happen to Tim and the boys.  AIDS and avascular necrosis are killing Tim the same as the others because society would like them to just disappear.  But they don’t go quietly.

Two things have changed more than Tim and I.  One is that the boys who have managed to stay alive have become men and able to protect themselves.  I DO put them in the category of noble heroes.  They’ve given up their pillow fights.  Now they are building a boat and sewing its sails.  Literally.

The other is that we were writers and we thought writing was a way out of stigma, but we were wrong because writing in the sense of print has exploded.  The big publishing houses had already been bought by conglomerates, morally and aesthetically gutted in the name of profit.  But electronic communication on small screens completely changed the game.  All the middlemen (often female) who used to shape and guide writing are obsolete.  Now “books” are somewhere between a music video and a computer game and authors might be anyone, publishing directly to the reader just as I am now.

Conventional print is not gone, beautifully made books will never be obsolete, but the internet has totally collapsed the previous business models of how to make a profit by cornering value.  Our commodity-driven society is challenged.  This material is supra-national, just like the international corporations that cannot be regulated or taxed by nations.  This writing does not respond to old cultural rules about morality or politics.  These writers don’t care about best-selling or prizes.  The previous generation of critics is gone.  “Success,” whatever that is, is now “viral.”  Like AIDS.  And as deadly.  But always with the possibility of healing, a scourge of renewal.

I no longer am interested in one “religion” or another.  I want to know the roots of religion in the human brain and the planetary landscape, because maybe then I’ll know what to say to boys living under a curse and a man who just won’t stop singing. 

I’m posting the url to Tim’s current work, but open it at your peril.  This particular post is very beautiful and even serenely mystical, but it is like that swan you see, gliding so effortlessly.  Under the surface much is happening, not pretty.  If you move to other posts in this series, you may run across things you wish you had NOT seen, things normally forced into invisibility.  This is not Facebook now, where Tim played nice for a while.  (http://le-too.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2010-11-29T04%3A15%3A00%2B01%3A00&max-results=1)

Below is the print version of what Tim says in this post.  There’s a lot of swan imagery at the moment: economic black swans, ballet swans.  In England a swan is a symbol of death and a figurine of a swan in the window means someone in the household has died.  But this is a more mysterious vision.

TIM:

people ask me what this is/ this is an orbitlogue/ what’s an orbitlogue/ as if my life could be driven by a comet’s tail and fitted to a frame/ and put each identity into separate drawers and bandaged moments/ nor does the night forget a lamp bearing at the very least a single spark and at times the blazing enormity of a sun/ poetry and music/ dancing and a silent sky/ the dead and the circumference in between/ go to the bottom of the page and you’ll find the next next and the next as near as memory allows/ it’s memory and mortality whose epoch has a basis here/ how good to be in the shadow of the tombs among these realms of orchards in the fog/ my blue lake’s arithmetic as quiet as a syllable/ to analyze perhaps the boys who arrive to throw stones into the middle of the pond at absolutely nothing. now, there’s an orbitlogue — the photographs of nothing might yet reply by way of confiscated gods such conviction as he fathoms who expends himself in this comet’s harrowing whip and snap that sweeps the bones away/ you go to the bottom and click the next and the next and the next in the revelation that you, too, sing eternity obtained in time where despair cannot win for want and poverty will not keep the dark away/ what is an orbitlogue/ all the small desires of record according to the sums and souls we connect the faces to the perished to, and to their own remembering each coffin is a paradise of first repose as frost is best conceived in cold as vicarious conviction will punctuate all the fires you could carry in your arms to keep the birds in place but paradise will fly away/ and we will rebuild yet another morning out of nothing more than sheer audacity/ what is an orbitlogue/ the latitude and the longitude asserts a prism whose wilderness suspends all the colors of us in a final yielding to the terrible tyranny invisibility shudders to attain/

Friday, November 26, 2010

THE MEMBRANES: An attempt to redefine pornography

It’s very hard to think about pornography, not least because no two communities define it the same way.  We remember, not too long ago, when it was ankles that were shocking.  But arts for grownups in dignified places show people having sex and that’s not supposed to be pornography.   The definition depends very much on time and place and other circumstances.  Where is the moral center?  It must be in the human being.  Pets walk around with their apertures in plain sight and no one is aroused -- not even them, unless they’re in season or are poodles.

I propose this little conceit, this little idea that I have.  It’s about membranes, but membranes of consciousness, of identity.  Membranes are thin pliable wraparound tissues that surround and protect but also join one organ to another.  There’s one around the brain, one around the heart, one around the liver, one around the growing baby before it is born.  When you cut open an animal -- yes, I have, because of hunting and being married to a taxidermist -- the space inside is orderly and silvery with these membranes. The key pattern here is the membrane around the growing baby, the one that is full of “water” -- the amniotic fluid because that membrane is called the amnion -- which must be torn open either in the process of birth or immediately afterwards or the baby will not be able to breathe.  The protection will become a suffocation.

The membrane of innocence is what protects the baby from the knowledge that it could be neglected at birth, left cold and unwrapped, maybe dropped or starved.  The baby doesn’t know this.  WE know this.  Tearing open this membrane of trusting care means death and we know it.  This is when a baby can be touched all over, MUST be cleaned, fed, dressed, wrapped, and -- hopefully -- soothed, stimulated, stroked, massaged without fear of sexuality.  The pornography of the infant is neglect unto death.   The infant is powerless.

Next is the membrane of emotion, when the child begins to be an interactor, wants to attract attention, smile into a face, and take care of others,  And yet the child is also playing with separation, feeling for the limits of bad behavior, throwing things on the floor, going too far, ripping clothes off.  So the parent preserves safety by interceding tactfully, making a buffer here, removing a sharp object there, and when the child has had enough exploration, becoming a soft warm harbor for sleep and song.  Now the membrane can be ripped open by the pornographies of rage, stony indifference, capricious limits, excesses of excitement or devouring.  Need one say that adult rape of either boy or girl is a rending, a destroying?  And yet if the membrane is too thick, too opaque for the child to break through, he may never have access to the feelings of others, may never energize his own creativity and freedom.

The membrane of eroticism is where things begin to be tricky.  Now the excitement and sensation escape from the flesh and move to the page, the silver screen, the flirtations of others, and all the other poetries that are not about muscles or blood flow, but rather about the interior of the brain.  When the metaphors take hold, the displacements and replacements and the place itself become significant and potent, maybe too much so.  The mind makes connections that are hard or even impossible to break, that come to visit, whirling through dreams and seizing the mouth, sucking at the eyes, boring into the ears.  Obsession.  Even this might not be a pornography unless there is formlessness, no way to make sense, no way to make a clearing in which to rest without killing the eroticism that is so much of the joy in life, the beauty and the dearness.  So again it is a question of tearing away the membrane and accepting the risk that is part of exploration always.

The membrane of generosity can be torn away early in our society.  Pay to play, bub.  One way or another.  But relationship is based on generosity and sexual generosity more than most other gives and takes.  The question is not so much equality -- not keeping score -- but a kind of dance of coming.

Four membranes:  Innocence,  then emotion, then eroticism, and finally generosity.

Now I’ve got a kind of hierarchy or levels going.  So I could say that a definition of pornography that is based on damage to the individual -- rather than the enforcement of community norms -- means anything that does damage at any of those levels.

If it destroys innocence wrongly, then it is porn.  If it overwhelms emotional readiness, then it’s porn.  If it is carelessly erotic, creating obsessions and displacements, then it’s porn.  If it is either stinginess or just wild dumping with no shape, then it’s porn.  What is porn has nothing to do with age or gender and not really much to do with the community, the culture.  This version is an attempt (a beginning) to define it in terms of the individual.  One person’s porn isn’t for someone else.  Might not even be erotic or edgy.  Might be laughable.

The fourth membrane is the strongest:  the membrane of our finitude, normally only pushed away or torn away by advanced age, mortal illness or battlefields.  The porn of loss is always punishing, a denial, an attempt to profit from fear.  Whether death is final, we just don’t know, but it is in two parts: the ends of things we know, one way or another, including other people, and our own end which we might see in spite of that protective membrane which we might in fact tear down or make into a rope.  All things end.  But there is this other conviction:  all ends are simply transformations.  We picture them as grisly, terrifying, but that’s only the rending of the membrane.  We’re back to the first membrane that protects the infant from knowing about the possibility of death, but now we know it in a different way.  We’ve already been transformed a million times.  What’s one time more?

In the end the pornography is sentimentality, denial, the diminishing of the life, the interruption of the necessary grieving.  Finitude teaches us that things should run their course, that we should live with joy in the moment.  That’s all I know so far.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

HERITAGE TURKEYS



These are my maternal grandparents, John and Ethel Pinkerton, maybe in the early Forties.   I was a pre-schooler when they and a lot of other people in the country thought they would get rich raising turkeys. I remember these turkeys vividly, because when I went out to their yard at an age when I was hardly taller than they were, they suddenly turned and advanced on me, en masse. I was sure their intentions were dishonorable because even as individuals they looked nothing like chickens. I KNEW chickens. I even FED chickens. It never occurred to me that the turkeys might have rushed me because they thought I was going to feed them.


Mary Strachan (later Scriver) and chickens.

As it turns out, turkeys are kind of tricky to raise. They catch diseases. They don’t come in out of the rain. They die of disinterest or something. The other problem is that every time there’s a craze for raising something or other, EVERYONE does it and that means that when it’s time to sell, there are too many chinchillas, guinea pigs, ostriches or turkeys. The market is flooded: no profit.

These turkeys my grandparents raised were not the white front-loaded monstrosities that people eat now. They weren’t that many generations removed from wild turkeys, which are fairly wily and resourceful. In fact, YouTube has several vids showing turkeys on the attack. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhh68bITXM8 Clearly, I was right to be wary.

Today, sixty years later, in Roseburg on the ranches of my relatives, there are wild turkeys, or maybe feral turkeys, which they feed inside box traps until they want to eat one. Then they simply drop the trapdoor. That way, you don’t have to worry about losing a tooth by biting into a shot pellet on Thanksgiving.

When I told Bob Scriver about this, he got all excited and wanted a wild turkey to mount for the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife, now dispersed. My aunt sent a gobbler, frozen, in the mail. I had walked to get the mail and at first set off for home with the turkey in my arms but it was very big and very cold -- I ended up dragging the package down the road by the strings. Bob mounted it against the wall and put a spotlight on it, so it looked splendidly iridescent and indigenous with its wings spread out and its wattles authentically spray-lacquered. Ben Franklin would have approved. It was iconic.

When I found these photos at the top, I spent a long time looking at them -- not the turkeys, but my grandparents. I don’t remember them at this stage in their lives. My grandmother died of cancer, quite young. She was a sweet, gentle woman. Her funeral was the first I ever went to. At this stage my grandfather, whom we called “Pop,” because that’s what my mother called him, was still the fiery, contentious, and promising young gent he continued to think he was until he was a doddering old man. He died in the Roseburg, Oregon, truck explosion in 1959. A load of fertilizer -- not at all meant to be a bomb -- was parked downtown and spontaneously blew up, cratering twelve square blocks. Pop was sleeping on the sofa under a picture window that blew in, but that didn’t hurt him. He thought it was World War III, an atomic bomb, and had a heart attack, dying a few days later. I don’t think he wondered why Roseburg, a quiet timber town in those days, would be bombed. I think he believed that he himself was likely to be the target in a World War.

The marriage of my grandparents was one of those “opposites attract” or at least fit-together relationships. Ethel Cochran’s mother had died young and her step-mother was critical and overbearing. John Pinkerton was quite willing to be Ethel’s champion.  It was a love match.  My mother was the oldest daughter and quite a lot like her Pop, though she tried to be like her Mom. Father and daughter ran headlong into each other -- two fierce fighting birds. But yet in the Fifties when it was clear to my mother that she needed to finish college so she could take up the economic slack my father left, it was “Pop” who came through with the tuition money. At last. For he had started to put her through college in the Thirties. For the last year she attended, he presented her with a bag of seed corn, a big leased mule, and a piece of bottomland. The idea was that if she could get a good corn crop, it would pay the tuition. She did get a good crop. It was not enough money. What made her bitter was discovering later that there was a family scholarship for which she qualified, but he never told her about it out of pride. He considered it charity.

This is the mule. She had no fondness for it and the writing on the photo was NOT the name of the mule, which has gone unrecorded.

My parents’ marriage was a flipped-over version of my grandparents’ marriage -- that is, my mother was the ferocious proud one and my father was the quiet gentle one. If you were in danger, you needed my mother. If you wanted a splinter removed, you went to my father. My mother taught me to drive a nail straight. My father taught me to sweep a floor thoroughly without raising a lot of dust. In both marriages, the man traveled and the woman stayed put. In both marriages, the man never quite made enough money. My grandmother raised chickens and sold the eggs. After her aborted college years my mother worked in town, carrying the eggs in and bringing the money back. She generally threw in a little of her own money without letting anyone know. I think my grandmother suspected and was grateful.

My life has been nothing like the lives of these two women, or their husbands either, though superficially I inherited my father’s love of books and even some of the actual books. But in some way their lives have taught me how to take on the turkeys and the mules of life. (I could figure out the cats and chickens without help.) I’m thankful for that heritage.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

FAMILY LIFE

No one realized that Pope Benedict cared so much about male whores that he would give them a dispensation that allowed the use of condoms in the course of their daily (er, nightly) work. Of course, they weren’t going to get anyone pregnant anyway. They weren’t going to stop the rain of babies that floods the world.


Did this mean that married couples could use condoms for contraception? Oh, no no no no. A man who wants sex must want babies. Then if he wants sex but not babies must he go to a whore? Does it matter whether it’s a male or female whore? (An off-label use of condoms. Maybe anatomy.) If he carries HIV or even has AIDS, then can he use a condom to protect his wife? If a male whore should use a condom as an act of compassion to protect his customers and maybe the wife of his customer, then who is it that will perform the act of compassion that will cure AIDS altogether? The United States will write a check to Big Pharma so they will send pills to Third World Countries, but that’s only if the country accepting the check will also accept other concessions, like military access or Big Pharma Third World drug trials. What does the Pope say about this?

What would Jesus say about all this? I think we know. We also know what Saint Paul would say, that man suspicious of all passion (except the Crucifixion). It is pointed out quietly in seminaries that Jesus is not the foundation of any institution. It is Paul -- oh, and Peter but he was not a very good bureaucrat -- who started the church and it was the Roman Emperor who solidified and located it. But a church is an institution, not an emotion. A church has no compassion. Only people can be compassionate.

A journalist is sent to interview a typical Catholic family about all this. “So,” the journalist asked the married couple, “Is this a big relief to you? Will it make a difference in your lives?”

The husband snorts. “Are you kidding? The Pope knows nothing about marriage. We haven’t paid attention to him for a long time.”

And the husband’s gay brother remarks rudely, “The Pope lives in a bubble smaller than the Popemobile. Nice shoes, though.”


The wife says, “Poor man. I hope he lives better than our parish priest who is too old and never gets a decent meal unless some married couple has him over and who is never sent the assistant he begs for. His cassock is threadbare and his rooms are too cold.”

Her brother-in-law laughs bitterly. “Maybe he can find ways to comfort himself.”

The twelve-year-old son says, “Yeah, but why use a condom anyway, now that you can just take a pill every day to prevent AIDS? What’s the difference between that and taking a contraceptive pill?” He gives a meaningful glance at his big sister who is home for Thanksgiving from Boston University.

The father bristles. “Five bucks a pill! You got that kind of money?”

Sulking, the son kicks a chair leg. “Only forty cents a day in third world countries.”

Now the mother bristles. “You can’t even remember to brush your teeth. Do you think you can remember to take a pill every single day without fail? That’s what you have to do.”

The sister looks over the top of the New York Times she has been checking. “My theology prof, Lisa Sowle Cahill, says the politics of AIDS has finally crowded the politics of contraception over to the side of the radar screen.”

“You’re right,” says the journalist, which causes the sister to reconsider -- maybe he’s cuter than she originally thought. “Back in 1987 when the doctors finally realized that AIDS was a retrovirus, an American committee of Bishops wanted a change in the policy on condoms but Ratzinger, then just a cardinal, whacked them hard with his doctrinal ruler. In 2001 -- that’s ten years ago -- the South African Bishops Conference issued a letter that said, ‘everyone has the right to defend one’s life against mortal danger.’ Even Opus Dei, that right wing of the church that Justice Scalia belongs to, agreed.”

“Let me see that,” says the gay uncle, taking the New York Times into his hands. “I’ve lost so many close friends since 1987. So many.”

The co-ed is indignant. “The Pope specifically said ‘male’ whores but in Italy they changed the wording to say ‘female whores.’ What is this? They think all whores are females? It’s not whoring if men do it? All females are whores?”

Her mother sighs. “How can you talk this way? You sound so cold-blooded. It makes me worry about you. If you say all these things, what might you do?”

The journalist is scribbling madly. “Don’t you believe that knowing things is good? Dr. John M. Haas, the president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, who is on the governing council of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, asked the publisher not to publish the book because it would cause so much trouble. Do you agree?”

“Knowledge is power,” says dad, tight-lipped, “And power is never easy.”

The mother wrings her hands. “What about the babies? The babies that shouldn’t be born because there’s no way to take care of them, no one to love them? What about the babies born with AIDS? Why can’t everyone use condoms?”

The twelve-year-old boy grumbles, “Heck, there are dispensers in the bathrooms of all the bars.”

Both parents look at him sharply. “How do you know THAT?” they demand.

The uncle is sheepish. “I told him.”

The father, angry, says to his brother, “I’ll take care of my son’s sex education, if you don’t mind.”

“But, Dad, you don’t know everything.”

The journalist begins gathering up his materials. “None of us knows enough. The world has been living in a Popemobile. It’s time we opened the doors and got out.”

The wife looks at him sharply. “I love my church.”

The daughter says, “I’ll help you carry your stuff out to the car.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A FEW GOOD MEN -- IN THE CRAWL SPACE

It’s very cold (twenty below) and will continue to be until Thanksgiving when it will still be cold but not so bitterly. The bad news is that I can’t get the front room warmer than fifty degrees. The good news is that I can get it that warm. My computer room is sixty. I can no longer see the house with the new addition because I hung an antique crazy quilt over the window. I pinned up a sort of tent-door with a hatpin for Squibbie to look out of but she’s there for the warm lamp, not the scenery. The town looks like a sheet of paper with houses printed on it, except it’s more quiet and stiff with cold than paper would be -- more like cardstock. The computer road report is marked with the red dots that indicate low visibility because of blowing snow; the prediction for more snow is ninety per cent, which is unusual when it’s this cold.

And yet last night I had a lively social event -- in the crawl space under the house. You remember that it’s actually “stoop space,” dug out to accommodate the hot water heater and the floor furnace that hangs down from above. I was hostess to two men, handsome, strong and competent. They came to install the water meter we have all had to accept in order to get grants and loans to dig a second town well, replace the key water main, and put up a second water tank. Resistance has been bitter and the two plumbers were relieved that I was cheerful. They are also happy to have work.

Dagwood’s rule is that one never pesters skilled workmen by asking them questions. I didn’t ask them about what they were doing but I was very curious about their lives and what it was like to be a plumber. I hold plumbers and electricians in very high esteem, not least because in the years with Bob Scriver so many of them helped us figure out how to build the foundry just for the sheer pleasure of making it work. The older of these men is from a small town along the High Line that has shrunk so much that it has had to consolidate and re-consolidate its schools with other small towns in order to achieve critical mass. (I am very glad not to be driving a school bus in weather like this.) He told me his cardiologist made remarks about him being a plumber (as if a cardiologist weren’t working with piping and pumps) and he told the doc that good sanitation and clean water probably saved more lives than cardiologists. Haiti would agree. But the cardiologist did a good job of installing stents in five blocked arteries in this man. Recovered, he was happy to be under the house rather than out in the cold.

There are two kinds of meters being installed: “vault” curbside meters which are sunk into the ground (for buildings on concrete slabs) and under-house meters like mine. The weather closed in on the outside meters with about ten left to dig, so they are hurrying to get the meters under the houses done, but not the meters that I saw the salesmen present to the city council. Nothing seems to happen quite the way it is explained by the mayor and city council and anyway the entire council has quit between the original agreement and the present status. While it was still good weather, I took photos of the little Bobcat front-end loader and the cute mini-excavator -- a “steam shovel” only a couple of feet taller than myself. I was so tempted to get into them and pretend I was digging. The neighbors already think I’m a nut case. If Blogspot ever allows the posting of photos again, I’ll put them on.

In Valier since I’ve been here it’s been hard to get the attention of a plumber, much less afford their rates. I assumed that plumbers had job security and a nice income, but these men filled me in on the real picture. Now that new home construction has stopped, the younger man has not had work for more than a year. “But how do you eat?” I asked. Unemployment. Which is about to end. This is the reality behind the political fancy dancing. They do not blame Republican obstructionism and extortion. They say it is because Montana doesn’t want growth and blocks it by over-regulating. (Plumbing is highly regulated, though I haven’t been told an inspector will come to check the meter installation. In Portland that would happen.) These are local men, family men, who try very hard to stay close to roots, even if they have to drive eighty miles from Great Falls to do this work. (Remember the weather.)

So we joked, which is how working class men meet hardships, and the younger man, who was the helper, ran back out to the truck for parts or tools, trying to remember “two female and one male” or “one male, one female” because both electricians and plumbers work with insertions between two things. It was easy to imagine them in bars on Saturday night “hooking up,” and we joked about a former mayor of Great Falls, “Gayle” Morris who owned and ran “Really Windy’s” bar where the exotic dancers were frankly doing business in the back room. The men had nothing but contempt for him. The law finally caught up with him, but not until he was out of office. How did he get in?

The younger man had lived in Valier for a year when he was in the sixth grade. That was about the time I left in an earlier recession and was out of work for months until I scored that job as an animal control officer. Then there was the time Heart Butte fired me in 1991 (another recession) and it was eight months before I began doing temp work for an industrial transformer rebuilding company that exploited Vietnamese and had an unqualified Ukrainian supervising engineer. When I finally got a clerical specialist job with the City of Portland, the constant complaint was that there were no good people to hire. They say the same thing now. No one around here thinks my degrees are worth anything. But a plumber now . . . we thought a plumber could always find work.

Apocalyptic tales often picture a few people huddled underground to escape nuclear winter, desperately rigging some way to survive. There we were in the dirt, chatting to get a grip on what was happening. Thanksgiving coming.

Monday, November 22, 2010

PIEGAN BLACKFEET HISTORY: 1940 TO 1950

The decade of the Forties was one that deeply wove the fortunes of the Blackfeet in those of the nation. This post is very long.

When WWII began, the number of volunteers from Montana and from the Blackfeet was proportionately higher than almost any other defined population. The generation born in the 1910’s was still in their twenties and, unless they had family, eager to fight. It would change their lives forever, partly because of trauma in combat and partly because of seeing the world. In May, 2005, I began this blog in part so I could post the research I did in the course of writing a biography of Bob Scriver. I made notes from the Glacier Reporter and will include some of them here. [Be warned that at that point I didn’t know how to block comments so they include a link to a penis enlargement product, unless I’ve managed to eliminate them later today.]

At home the people were united in the support effort. White and Indian women threw themselves into activities sponsored by the Blackfeet War Mothers who sent boxes and boxes of socks, cookies, and other supplies, often with a five dollar bill tucked in there someplace. Raffles and dances were held to raise money. Old-Time Indians came to the homes and businesses of white people to pray for the safety of their children.

In the second half of the Forties the work of managing the peace was almost as hard as the war. A wave of new babies had to be absorbed into families that were coming apart because of wartime marriage in haste or because the men had returned traumatized and often alcoholic, but the women had learned how to manage things by themselves. Blackfeet diasphora communities had formed when people went to do war work in the big cities: Seattle or LA or Minneapolis. It was hard for men who had been officers, who had been respected and treated as equals, to come back to an environment where they were stigmatized. At the same time white veterans came onto the rez to start businesses or maybe to marry tribal women and run ranches. These families were the spine of the town when I came.

What follows is a little taste of the notes on my blog in May, 2005. If locals want to read the actual newspapers, there is a set of the them at the library at Blackfeet Community College.

January 5, 1940
Law passed that women can serve on juries.

January 12, 1940
Nellie Gladstone, BHS honor student, is a nurse in Seattle, passed a Civil Service test. [The Gladstone family includes both Jack Gladstone, the musician, and Curly Bear Wagner, cultural spokesperson.]

January 19, 1940
Born to Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Gold Saturday January 13 at the Blackfeet Hospital: a baby girl weighing 7 lbs. 12 oz. Wed and Thurs Mrs. Gold was reported very ill but is much improved today. [This baby is today Mary Lee Wippert, married to Lloyd Wippert and living in Valier.]
.
February 29, 1940
Melinda Wren died February 29, Thursday AM at her Milk River home. [Check the William Farr photo book for her portrait -- she was VERY beautiful.] She was born March 4, 1849, near Fort Benton. Her father was Chas Chouquette, who worked for Pierre Choteau and the American Fur Co. At age 8 her father sent her to Peoria, IL, to stay with her aunt and go to school. At age 17 she returned. She met John Wren and married him the following year. This “daughter of the cordeliers” accompanied her husband trapping and prospecting from the Peace River to the Yellowstone. This is the family that gave Pincer Creek it’s name -- they moved camp and forgot the horseshoeing pincers. But they went back, found them successfully, and always afterwards called that place “Pincer Creek.” She was the interpreter for years at Old Agency. In 1896 she settled on Milk River. When Wren died, Melinda carried on with her eleven children: Mrs. Al Goss, Mrs. William Kipp, Mrs. Matt Lytle, Mrs. Dan Hamilton, Mrs. Dora Cummings, Mrs. Angus Monroe, Mrs. William O’Brien, John, Robert and Willliam Wren. She had twin daughters: Mrs. Louise Aubrey and Mrs. Josephine Grant. Funeral at Church of Little Flower with Father Halligan. [Recently I officiated at the funeral of Ramona Goss, her granddaughter, who was one of those women who married a white rancher and taught school in the classroom next to mine.]

March 22, 1940
J.L. Sherburne, T.E. Scriver and Bob Starr go to the State Highway Commission to secure the Two Medicine Bridge. [ This bridge is currently being rebuilt.]
St. Patrick’s Dance -- Scriver’s Swing Band.
The commodity meat issue is pigs for a change.

August 23, 1940
Nancy Russell’s will in probate -- left money to trust fund for promoting art. [This trust fund now funds the “C.M. Russell Center for the Study of Western Art” on the University of Oklahoma campus.]

June 20, 1941
Museum of the Plains Indian Museum to open June 29.
Among the distinguished visitors at the Plains Indian Museum this week was Walter McClintock of Pittsburg, PA, who arrived in this section for an annual outing in Glacier National Park and reunion with his old Blackfeet Indian friends who he has known for several decades. McClintock’s intimacies with the Blackfeet tribe are near-sacred, he being among the first of whites to be adopted into the tribe, his Indian friends having included in years past the most outstanding leaders. McClintock, a Yale University scholar, years ago began his trek of the Glacier National Park as a photographer, his work helping to bring about its creation as a national park. His history of the Blackfeet Indians is considered among the authoritative works by students. He is author of a book callee “Old North Trail,” which teems with historic gems.

August 29, 1941
Jack Holterman arrived last Friday evening from San Francisco where he had been attending school and received his Master’s Degree during the summer session. He will teach at Starr School this year. [Holterman became an important historian of the Blackfeet, but he is little known, even locally.]

1943: Makes Cold Weather gives Blood Medicine Pipe to John Ewers. The Council files suit against Superintendent McBride and Forester A.D. Stephenson, defending B. Connolly. A certain amount of double-leasing seems to be going on. Different authorities make different deals with different people. The drought cattle, which were supposed to have been relief, have now somehow become a debt.

1944: National Congress of American Indians formed as Indian lobbying group. Brian Connolly accuses George Pambrun of shady doings. D'arcy McNickle is a member of the government commission that investigates the whole complication. So is Felix Cohen who (as an assistant Secretary of the Interior) had helped to create the Tribal Council and didn't want to hurt it now. He was one of the most celebrated practitioners of Indian law in American and is employed by the tribe.

1946: Warren O'Hara is the superintendent.

1949: Iliff McKay is the Tribal Treasurer. He was bonded, resigned, terminated his bond, and then was reinstated but without the bond. This meant the Council couldn't receive funds from the local accounts on deposit with the Superintendent Rex Kildow and precipitated an audit, which the bonding company insisted upon. The Council had loaned themselves $63,000. There was much other evidence of mismanagement. The Charter was not being enforced. Cohen advised the Council to put their money in a separate account of their own until he can work out difficulties. The superintendent suggests terminating supervision. He asks for the FBI. D'Arcy McNickle, Chief of the Tribal Relations Branch, urges the Indian Bureau to sort things out as the law requires.

Glacier Chief, February 6, 1942
Mountain Chief, 94, and last hereditary chief of the Blackfeet Indians, who died at his house on the reservation Monday, was buried Wednesday in the cemetery here following funeral service at the Church of the Little Flower. Mountain Chief, blind and confined to his home for some years, but otherwise in good health, died suddenly after complaining of having difficulty in breathing. He had been about his yard shortly before and succumbed quietly while lying on his bed. Mountain Chief was born on Old Man River in Canada in 1848 and remembered the Treaty of 1855 of which his father was a signer. he was present at the time it was signed. by this treaty all the land south of the Missouri River claimed by the Blackfeet in Montana was given to the United States. He was known as a great warrior and, according to Dick Sanderville, took part in a great many Indian fights during his lifetime. He met also many of the Presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley, Wilson, Taft, and Queen Marie of Rumania. He participated in the sale of land which is now Glacier Park to the government. Mountain Chief was friend of General Hugh L. Scott. In 1930 he had his last visit with the general at the International Peace Conference of the Indian tribes at Browning, when the universal sign language was recorded on movie film under the direction of Scott. He is survived by his son Walter; daughter Rosie Mad Wolf; and four grandsons: Peter Stabs by Mistake, Patrick Marceau and Joe Mountain Chief, all living near Heart Butte, and Aloysious Red Fox. who is in the army in Alaska. There are 14 great grandchildren.

February 20, 1942
A large group of men from here went to Great Falls last week where they took an examination for the army. Among the men who went were Harold Scriver, Les Aubert and Jim Whitecalf.

April 24, 1942
Funeral services for the late John Franklin Bird, 93, venerable Montana pioneer, who passed away at the home of his daughter, Mrs. L. J. Momberg on Thursday, April 16, were held at the Methodist Church Saturday afternoon with Rev. Allen O. Wilcox officiating. Browning Funeral Home had charge of arrangements. Interment was made in the Browning Catholic Cemetery beside the grave of his wife. The following obituary was prepared by Mary B. Salois: The death of Mr. Bird removes from the community one of the real pioneers. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, Dec. 11, 1848, where he lived until he attained manhood. At the age of 20 he came West and engaged in freighting in the eastern part of Montana Territory, following the route from Bozeman to the Canadian border. His real purpose in coming West was to engage in prospecting. He and Mr. Phemister spent a number of years prospecting for gold in the country that is now Yellowstone Park and adjacent territory. He was among the early freighters out of Ft. Benton, hauling freight to the old government Fort Logan. One one particular trip as he was returning north word reached him that General Custer’s Command had been wiped out by the Sioux on the Little Big Horn. He had been hauling supplies to the old 7th Cavalry. Mr. Bird was a close friend of the late Paris Gibson and well remembered the time when Mr. Gibson, being peeved at the people of Ft. Benton, told them, “I’ll leave this town and start a real town somewhere else.” His statement became true as he started Great Falls. Mr. Bird hauled the first freightload of furniture and supplies to the original Park Hotel in Great Falls. In the year of 1880 he was married to Mattie Mad Wolf Woman, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe. They made their home in Choteau for a number of years and later moving to the reservation. Their first home here was at Old Agency, where he was in charge of the government herd of cattle. The family moved to a ranch on Willow Creek which later became the Methodist Mission. Their next house was about a mile down the creek which within a sort time became the Blackfeet Agency of today. Later the family moved to a ranch on Cut Bank Creek where they lived for many years. During his more than 93 years, Mr. Bird saw many changes in the ways of life. He watched and took part in the development of the community. He often remarked he never thought he would see the day when he would watch airplanes in the sky, automobiles on splendid highways which took the place of the old treacherous trails, electric lights that took the place of candles and all the wonders that always thrilled him. He said it was a long way from driving a bull team on a freight wagon to these days of everything modern. His later years were spent in ranching and he and Mrs. Bird lived for many years on what is still known at the old Bird ranch on Cut Bank River. On a trip about seventeen years ago to Yellowstone Park, he was shown many of the well-known sites. when the party came to Old Faithful geyser, he stood looking at it for some time and then remarked, “It looks just like it did 45 years ago. It spouts out just the same.” Survivors include 4 daughters and 6 sons, who are: Mrs. Dave Higgins, Mrs. L.J. Momberg, Mrs. Andrew Keller of Browning; Mrs. Martha Hans of Niobrara, Nebraska; Sampson, Charles, Johnson, Harry, George and Oscar of Browning; 40 living grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren; a sistser Mrs. Mary Odneal of Sprague, MO, and nephew, Charles Moreland of Lewiston, ID.

May 1, 1942
The Sherburne Mercantile burned.
Mary Salois begins to have a War Mother’s Column in the paper.
Bill Show donates a yearling steer to the War Mother’s auction. [This steer became famous because each person who won it donated it back to be auctioned again!]

June 5, 1942
War mothers: We hear from Harold Scriver PFC that he’s undergone basic training and finds army life is alright but no monkey business. He is glad the Browning War Mothers are doing their bit for the boys and says that the boys having no mothers of their own are indeed lucky to find they can call on several mothers to make life in the service happier for them.

June 26, 1942
Footprints of sign-talkers dedicated. Dedication of the footprints on the lawn of the Museum of the Plains Indian which commemorates the historic Conference of Northwest Indians at Browning in September, 1930, called for the intertribal demonstration of the sign languages, is scheduled for 2 o’clock on the afternoon of June 30 on the Museum lawn. A prominent part of the program will be taken by some of those who took part in the original conference. Most of the participants in that council are now dead. However, James Whitecalf, Richard Sanderville (Chief Bull) and Mr. F. C. Campbell of the original group, whose footprints appear in the circle of bronze tablets will participate. Plans are being made for the Indians from the encampment north of the museum to attend in a body.

July 17, 1942
Private Eddie Big Beaver, Jr. was in Australia.

October 9, 1942
Fred Campbell obituary. [He was the dynamic agent who pushed agriculture.]

Browning Chief, 1944

September 15, 1944
Pvt. John McKay seriously wounded in action in France with heavy artillery. Has been in European war zone for a year.

November 3, 1944
“The lambs of Tom Kipp of Blackfoot weighed approximately 87 lbs. each and were a close second [to Frank Conway’s]. Contrary to the usual situation, the prairie lambs outweighed the lambs that were grazed in the mountains.”

December 1, 1944
Pvt. Eddie J. Big Beaver, son of Mr. and Mrs. E. Big Beaver, Sr. of Browning, is due to arrive soon in the US on furlough from the Atlantic-Pacific war zone. Pvt. Big Beaver has served 36 months in the Army Field Artillery Corps.

June 15, 1945
Maj. Gen. Wm. H. Gill, commander of the 324 (Red Arrow) Division, announces that the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines has awarded the Philippines Liberation Medal to Private Calvin C. Augare of Browning, MT. Pvt. Augare entered the army in April, 1943, and came overseas in October of the same year, assigned to the 32nd Division, veterans of Buna, he saw his first combat action at Saidor, New Guinea. He participated in four succeeding operations and is fighting at present among the mile-high ridges of the Caraldallo Mountins in Northern Luzon. Pvt Augare is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Augare and the husband of Mrs. Theda LaBuff Augare of Browning, Mt.

Pfc. Jack Heavyrunner Escorts Correspondent
Pft. Jack HR, who is with the 32nd Infantry Division in the Pacific, was a member of a patrol that escorted two distinguished war correspondents over the bloody battlegrounds along the Villa Verde Trail in northern Luzon’s Caraballo Mountains. The correspondents, “Doig” Disbrow, nationally known feature writer, and Keo Amelian, owner and reporter for radio station KLEU, Erie, Penn., wanted first hand information on the 120 day battle fought by the 32nd (Red Arrow) Divison to secure the 22 miles of mountain trail through the heart of Japanese resistance to Santa Fe. The visitors also wanted to see action. The patrol spent the day in combing the brush and timber covered canyons and gullies tryiing to make isolated pockets of Japs stand and fight. Towards evening when the party was descending the dizzy curves of the Villa Verde road, a Jap sniper fired on the car carrying the correspondents. Bullets whipped through the air and over the vehicle but no one was injured.

August 10
Big headline: Japs Give Up!

August 31, 1945
When July 4th comes around in the future, Edward Big Beaver, Jr. will go through them with mixed emotions since his war wound was suffered last July 4 when he was shot through the hip by a “die hard” Jap in the Philippines. “Hell!” shouted Big Beaver the other day, “Getting shot on July 4th in a battle is more sensible than having it happen in peacetime!” Big Beaver put in approximately four years in the service of his country, most of which was in the hot spots of the Pacific. He received a medical discharge.

September 24
Harold Douglas, expert electric welder, worked at Hanford and welded the atomic bomb -- blindfolded! [Don’t ask me how he did it. The article didn’t explain -- just that it was the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.]

October 3, 1945
“It was good. It was the biggest thing to hit this valley since the Japs,” said Pfc. Jackie Heavyrunner Jr. of Browning, MT. in an attempt to describe the Carabao Rodeo staged by the 126th Infantry Regiment’s 3rd Battalion near Arctao in the Cagayan Valley, northern Luzon. Heavyrunner, who ended the war on his 538th day of conflict with the 3rd (Red Arrow) Division was one of more than a thousand Red Arrowmen, guerrillas and girls who cheered Carabao #9, “Demobilization,” as he sped across the finish line leading a field of 8, to establish an all-time 500 yards record of 5:25:3. Horse-races, relay races, and other events were climaxed by a battle between the lovely ladies of Deupex and Aritao for the Cayagan Valley Softball Crown while a guerilla band furnished music and ice-cold Coke flowed like water. “The rodeos back in Montana were tame compared to this riot,” said Heavyrunner. “It was the first one I’ve seen since I shipped over here in September, 1943.” He saw action at Sardor and Aitape, New Guinea; Morotai, in the Dutch Indies; and Leyte, Philippine Islands, before going to Luzon. There the Red Arrowmen hammered General Yamashita’s forces for six months, killing 12,000 Japs before the Tiger of Malaya surrendered to the 32nd at Baguio.

October 19, 1945
“The Daughters of the American Indian” [Parallel to the Daughters of the American Revolution]
Pres. Mae Williamson
VP: Mary B. Salois
2nd VP Pansy Cavanagh
Sec. Rita DuBray
Treas. Viola Upham
Kate W. Smith, Nellie Buffalo Chief, Lillie Monroe, Elizabeth A. Welch, Irene Salois, Nora Spanish, Jeanette Night, Lucy Sharp, Julia Wades in the Water, Emma Last Star, Maggie Croff, Mary Huntsberger, Sadie Kennerly, and Hildegarde Jessepe.

Jan. 24, 1947

John McKay, because he is a veteran amputee, is given his choice of any new car with the price limit of $1600 value with the government picking up the tab.

June 20, 1947
Schultz, Noted Writer, Passes; Local Pioneer
James Willard Schultz, 87, now Montana pioneer and nationally known author of stories dealing with the early Blackfeet Indians, died at his home in Ft. Washougie, Wyoming, on Wednesday of last week, the body being forwarded to Browning, funeral services being held Monday afternoon by members of the Blackfeet Tribe. Lying in state at the Beck Funeral Home Sunday and Monday mornings, it was viewed by sorrowing Blackfeet as well as the deceased’s many white friends of older generations. The life of Schultz was perhaps as colorful as any American in pioneer history. Born at Booneville, NY, August 26, 1859, he was educated at Peekskill Military Academy in preparation for West Point. However, he forsook opportunity for a military career to come west and be one of the actors in the drama of Montana pioneering. His trip was by boat from Missouri to Fort Benton. In 1877 he was inducted into the Blackfeet tribe and named Ap-i-kuni, in the Indian tongue meaning “Far Off White Robe.” From then on for many years he was virtually a full-fledged member of the tribe, sharing their joys and sorrows and maintaining his fealty to them to the very day of his death. Learning the Blackfeet language, he launched upon a literary career in the middle 1900’s, among books produced being “My Life As an Indian;” “Bird Woman,” the life of Sacajawea; “Blackfoot Tales of Glacier National Park;” “Signposts of Adventure; “ “Rising Wolf;” and “The White Beaver.” Schultz named many of the peaks in Glacier National Park, including Red Eagle, Going to the Sun, Grinnell Glacier, and Grinnell Mountain. His first wife was Multsi Ahwatan Ahki, a Blackfeet, who died in 1903. A member of the Catholic faith, she was buried in the Holy Family Mission cemetery. To them was born a son, Hart, of Greer, Arizona. In 1931 he married his present wife, Jessie Louise Donaldson, former member of the faculty of the Montana State College amd now engaged as a social worker in the Indian Service at Ft. Washougie. [There are other related articles.]

September 26, 1947
Loving Tribute Paid Venerable Indian, Wades
Services for the late Wades-in-the-Water, venerable Blackfeet who died at the local hospital last Saturday, were held at the Little Flower Church Tuesday at 2PM with Rev. Fr. Gerner officiating. Arrangements were in charge of the Beck Funeral Home. Active pallbearers were J.L. Sherburne, Harold Hanneman, Joe Ironpipe, Theodore Last Star and Reuben Black Boy of Browning and Wilbur Werner. Honorary pallbearers, token of the departed’s wealth of devoted friendships, included citizens in various walks of life in this and neighboring communities as well as in various cities in Montana and the country at large. Wades-in-the-Water, a full-blood Blackfeet, attained the age of 76. He was the son of the late Running Crane, one of the last official chiefs of the Blackfeet Tribe. A man of courage, with character as firm as was the environs that molded him as a child of Nature, he was regarded higihly by all who knew him. At the grave service in the Browning Catholic Cemetery, a beautiful tribute was paid the departed by an admiring friend, Warren L. O’Hara, superintendent of the Blackfeet Agency.

Oct. 31, 1947
Dr. Schaffer arrives to take over the Museum of the Plains Indian. BA in anthro from the U of Washington, then post-grad at Yale, PhD at U of Pennsylvania.

Nov 7, 1947
Robbery of DeVoe’s and then Starbucks drugstore. Got $2500 at the latter. Marshall Boyd shot to death by “Rowe” who was an escaped con from Minnesota.

Dec. 26, 1947
John McKay wins a second car at the Altar Society Bazaar!

April 16, 1948
FFA delegates: Jack Wood, Steve Barcus, Bill McCurdy, Dennis Harris, Kenneth Juneau, Ed Conway, Eugene Kipp, Jerry Show, Lee Wilson, Fred Pambrun.

Jan. 14, 1949
William Marceau froze to death. 29 below.

Jan 27, 1950
No relief money for Crees -- Joe Hameline is chopping up his floor and burning it to keep from freezing.
Percy Bullchild dies. [Author of “The Sun Comes Down,” which was also his Indian name.]

Feb 3, 1950
30 inches of snow -- 20-30 foot drifts.

July 7, 1950
Mayor and entire council QUIT!! Frank Sherburne is the mayor. Jack Moyer, Henry Parsons, Wm. Wright, and Gus Hunsberger.
1674 people in town. More than half are Indians. There are 4,000 Indians on the reservation which is self-supporting with its income from resources. One quarter of a million dollars was spent on various levels of welfare. There is one policeman. When, over 4th of July, he arrested 20 drunks, they broke out of all sides of the flimsy jail -- pushed out or dug under the walls, broke out the ceiling, etc. Drunkenness and violence rampant.

August 25, 1950
Agent F.C. Campbell’s daughter married LeRoy DeRosier. [The DeRosier family has been remarkable in achievement and contribution to the reservation.]

Sept. 8, 1950
Eloise, 4, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Polite Pepion, suffered a fracture of the right forearm Tuesday when she fell from a riding pony. With other playmates, she was enjoying a ride at the Pepion ranch. The accident occurred when she fell from her position behind the saddle. She was taken to the local hospital for treatment. [Eloise married Turk Cobell. She is now a MAJOR part of history as the complainant in the just-now settled lawsuit against the US government for mismanaging the trust funds of Indians.]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

THE ABYSS, THE EMBRACE

When I was circuit-riding in my van (1982-85) below zero snowy nights like this week in Valier meant that I stayed in someone’s guest bedroom. That was always an adventure. But if the temp were above ten degrees, I slept in the van. A different kind of adventure, and despite the cold -- I have never been so cold, not even snow-camping while hunting -- I preferred it. I had a space blanket for a mattress pad which was pretty effective. Or I had a little heater and would park behind a mini-office-strip and run an extension cord out the window to the outlet where they plugged in the headbolt heaters on their cars. I would lie very still with legs out straight and arms at my sides, like an Egyptian mummy in a sarcophagus. It didn’t take long to warm up my body space and then I slept surprisingly well. Without moving. Sometimes now I dream I’m sleeping there again.

“Kenosis” is a religious concept based on the idea of emptying out. It recurs in many cultures and religious systems. Maybe because the ministry and probably in all of the Abramic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) but -- most intensely -- Protestant denominations that closely associate prosperity with salvation, I was supposed to be in a growth and expansion mode. More people, more money, more influence, more status, more political power -- you get the idea. The contrast might be Quakers or Catholic religious orders like the Poor Clares. (They have a new retreat in Great Falls now, so what does that mean?) Anyway, “acquisition” to me doesn’t mean what it means to mainstream Americans. I acquire ideas and only pack around too many books because until the Internet, that’s how you got at ideas unless you were on a campus.

The concept of kenosis had a lot of popularity in the 16th century when capitalism and the very beginnings of the middle class were forming so that “stuff” began to mean more than just enough to eat and a shelter. I am not surprised that in these overloaded days of “stuff,” kenosis has come back in our modern way: through music. Three examples: "The French black metal band Deathspell Omega have a 2005 EP named Kénôse, whose lyrics reference theological themes of emptiness and more. The American post-rock band Hammock released an album in 2005 named Kenotic. The American post-hardcore band Designer released an album in October 2010 entitled Kenosis, which addresses spiritual themes such as this, amongst other things." I haven’t heard any of them. Yet. (I got the references off Wikipedia -- forgive me.)

In practical terms, my ministerial van life was simply transportation and bedroom, but in spiritual terms it was my Kenosis, especially in winter. The high prairie is “high” because it is north so it's high on the map page; because it is where the continent subtly folds and slants down from the Rockies to the Mississippi; and because it is a place with such extremes that one’s mind can be “high” in the sense of intoxicated. Driving a hundred miles (roughly the distances between my four fellowships: Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula) was my “high church” experience as I shuttled from ragged mountains to sheltered valleys and flat land. My mantra has been “geology is almost theology” and this is where I learned it.

The role of minister is dualistic, not in terms of good/evil, but in terms of being the “primate” (the authority) versus being very aware of one’s limitations, ignorance, and weakness. I think of a Wallace Stegner quote (he grew up on the prairie not far away) about how even a person standing upright has the humility of being on one’s knees, and yet the very fact of being vertical in so much horizon means standing out. The nights in the van were my times of Kenosis, emptying out, becoming one with a huge night sky and taut endless land. They were the heart of my idea of being a minister, never addressed in seminary.

I did not know how to explain that to my parishioners. To them the congregation was an occasion of gathering. Only Missoula had a building where I stayed in the basement bedroom I have now learned was where Dirck Van Sickle wrote “Montana Gothic,” which could usefully be analyzed in terms of horror as Kenosis. Or maybe Kenosis as horror. Certainly, Missoula folks were the most into acquisition and status of any of the groups. They wanted me there, on-call, and significant in the community, which is a college town. Great Falls probably came the closest to being Kenotic since they were mostly scattered grain ranchers, accustomed to long long hours alone on the land. Bozeman was a mountain-climbing town as well as a university. In spite of being the state capital, Helena didn’t have many politicians. They were and are (I think) mostly professionals: shrinks, teachers, fish and game, ag regulators. But they saw themselves as a “get together.”

A bit of my thinking from those years is in my book of prairie sermons:“Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke,” published by the Edmonton Unitarian Church and now only available as remaindered copies through Driftwillow Press. http://www.driftwillowpress.com/

Kenosis is bottomless. How deeply you go depends on your courage -- or maybe it’s recklessness. It requires the faith that however much you abandon, however much you let go, however much you fall, in the end there are forces that will gather you up and restore you, renewed. What you call those forces depends upon your culture, your experience.

Now this flimsy little old house, built in the BIG Depression, and plumbed, electrified and insulated haphazardly as afterthoughts, is the same as my van, is my anchorite refuge. Now the sky brings the humility down on me from the north or from the mountains. Now the wind pounds it into me. Now the sun and the blooming prairie lift me back, rising in grandeur like summer thunderheads. It’s not an intellectual sort of experience, though I insist on pursuing it that way. These concepts -- abyss, embrace -- are FELT concepts, whole body. And yes, probably best expressed in music and dance. Tim understands, way off on the blue ridges with the black bears and the red wolves. Seafarers have always understood. The Blackfeet know.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

SALES PLATFORMS FOR ARTISTS & WRITERS

Mentioning Thomas Kinkade is an excellent intro to the next step for success in art or writing: PLATFORM. That is, knowing who your audience is and providing a sense of identity that they can comprehend as relevant. Some people, a little too clever maybe, can design a platform for a specific demographic group where they think there is money. Kinkade seems to be this type. He creates sweet, pastel, greeting-card images of “home,” as envisioned in a dream world where such a home is absolutely safe, warm, and honorable. That this is not his natural mode is tipped off by his recent troubles with the law. There are plenty more examples, some of them very famous Western artists. Some people don’t think Norman Rockwell was anything like the folks in his paintings. Whether it’s valid as a criticism to say an artist or writer is or is not “like” his work is an old issue that will never be resolved.

Platform as a selling gimmick is something else and has become very intense in recent times. The public is sometimes only interested in the art or writing as a way of connecting to what they fancy to be the artist or writer. Why else would they get so outraged over the idea of a hoax? Identity politics are intense and hard-bitten. Thus, when a modern journalist, John Taliaferro, wrote “Charles M. Russell: The Life and Legend of America’s Cowboy Artist,” he found out in a hurry that the fans and especially the promoters of the “brand” called Charlie Russell didn’t want to know the “real truth.” They didn’t CARE that both Charlie and Nancy had been sterilized by syphillis or that Charlie had a goiter bad enough to interfere with his heart and a hernia that meant his Metis sash had to do double duty as a support, but he would not go to a doctor. They were more willing to understand that Nancy, after Charlie’s death and after she had moved to Pasadena, had a very close male friend. (I’ll get kickback for this.) Taliaferro was not thanked and his name is not mentioned at the Great Falls Auction or Museum. All his books disappeared from the shelves. (So did mine.) Neither was Thomas H. Pauly rewarded for unveiling the romantic life of Zane Grey. Revelations about beloved figures, however deceiving their platform personas, fall on deaf ears. Anyway, they’re bad for sales. Commerce can vanquish even scandal.

Thus, when my book about Bob Scriver, “Bronze Inside and Out,” was submitted to the University of Oklahoma Press, the acquiring editor, Chuck Rankin, did NOT like what I said and, in fact, B. Byron Price -- one of the supposed objective secret evaluators -- recommended that it be severely shortened and all the women be taken out. (Something like the editor who refused Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs through It” because it had too many trees in it.) A different author might have agreed. I pulled my manuscript. Chuck Rankin had done an earlier hatchet job on Bob when he was editing “Montana: the Magazine of Western History,” so I had hated to send the manuscript there anyway. Earlier it had been rejected by the University of Minnesota Press, I suspect in part because of Native American politics over the sale of the Scriver artifact collection.

The general bourgeois public looks for platforms that are reassuring or adventurous in a non-threatening way -- crocodiles in Australia but not dog packs in their neighborhood. Tales of rescue, endless tales of rescue, and no photos of the piles of dead dogs at the end of the day in shelters everywhere. “That’s morbid,” they say. “I can’t face it. Why make me?”

Well, because that’s the way change and reform come about. If you can shut things out of awareness, the profiteers and the death-mongers can go right on with their horrid business. Luckily there ARE tough-minded people who stare straight into the black sun no matter what it costs them. Those who address the nineteenth century prairie clearances of the native Americans stick to paintings of beautiful maidens and the horse-and-feather moments of raids and battles. (HOORAY for today’s decision finally to pay back the embezzled funds of American Indians!) Customers like some romantic but totally unreal lodges in sunsets against idyllic scenery, painted by someone who once worked for Walt Disney. That’s what the rich bourgeois buy. (The truly rich don’t buy anything at all in Montana. Maybe ranches.)

But why should art be all the same? Saying that Kinkade is NOT a legitimate art platform because one is too sophisticated to like it, doesn’t mean that the housing inspector I knew in Portland who covered his cubicle with Kinkade images from calendars wasn’t sincere. He had learned that what his people liked was candy-sweet and safety-based. That’s what he liked, too. The black Imam a few cubicles down whose mosque had recently been burned out and whose son turned out to be a leopard, had NO images in his cubicle. That the men could get along, at least at work, is remarkable. Great art is always in a context. Some people are always going to prefer the Vargas girl to the Mona Lisa, no matter what the “experts” tell them. (Whoever makes the arrangements in the warehouse of Scriver bronzes has hidden his little nudes. He had enormous fondness for Vargas, though there wasn’t a Playboy or Penthouse in the studio. At least not a copy his mother might find. She DID come up and look.)

There ARE legitimate curators of Charlie Russell’s work, definers of genre who try to understand why this platform “formed.” It’s always an interaction of the culture with the individual. These people are generally academic and unknown to the general public, so they make a kind of meta-platform. At the roll-out of the comprehensive list of all Charlie Russell’s work, generally referred to in French as a “catalogue raisonee” to give it a little class, the real experts were brought in for a legitimating seminar and they were wonderful to hear, but it’s tough to get a publisher to commit money to the creation of their books, especially since they will require expensive photo plates. People don’t want to have to work so hard to be able to explain to their neighbors how important their possessions are.

Most confusing of all to many people are the artists or writers who occupy several platforms, for instance, the Connecticut illustrators like John Clymer who later became an easel painter of Western art. Of course, besides his beloved Saturday Evening Post covers (as well-loved as those of Norman Rockwell), he had always done illustrations of the West like his series about the Northwest Indian Tribes for National Geographic and portraits of Western animals. He was lucky to be seen as “double” partly because he was a Westerner by birth. Howard Terpning, on the other hand, has not exactly pointed out his early career painting pretty Jon Whitcomb girls for short stories in Colliers.

When one sweeps back the Oz curtain that obscures art, the scene is confusing and multiple. It pays to hold still and ponder for a while. Unless you’re trying to close a sale.

Friday, November 19, 2010

HOW TO GET RICH WITH ART

The way to make a profit is very simple: “buy low, sell high.” Therefore, persons who are looking for profit look for gradients of time, place or reputation. Something that was worth $5 yesterday -- let’s say shares in an automobile company -- may increase in value to $10 tomorrow. (Interest on a loan is a sort of forced gradient: you get your $5 back plus interest or else you get your $5 back or else you get whatever you put up for collateral. That’s the theory.)

Gradients of place are quite obvious when dealing with ethnic (local, regional) crafts (pots, bead work, quilts) or with natural resources like ores or certain plants (coffee, olives). The entrepreneur buys a supply, invests the cost of transportation, and sells it where it isn’t found.

The gradient of reputation is the most variable and the one most vulnerable to outside interference. Coffee became all the rage -- Starbucks now, coffee houses very early -- until doctors advise against it or the New Age people bolt to tea. Think of the fortunes of beef, profits much reduced by Oprah’s opinion. In fact, scares about health are one of the most effective gradient-factors in our world today. Not just big pharma either. I’ve never forgotten the social commenter who noted that predicting the craze for jogging let a few prescient people clean up on sports bras and big bouncy shoes. Of course, now that barefoot runners from Africa have been seen to win marathons, the trendy are buying thin-soled shoes with separated toes and have found experts to say these are healthier. Earth shoes, negative-heel shoes, went by in there someplace. Sex trumps health, so four-inch-heel platform-sole ankle-strap fuck-me sandals also sell.

A popular gallery exercise in the Cowboy Art world is comparing the gradient of stock market investments against the gradient involved in the value of Remington’s art. (This began as a back East pursuit, which is why they used Remington instead of Russell. The great thing about Russell was that he was so prolific and spontaneous that fifty years ago Dick Flood could still find Russell originals gathering dust in someone’s old chicken coop. Nice low.) Whether the stock market and Remingtons compare well depends on whose thumb is on the scale. Remington knock-offs, encouraged by the public conviction that Remingtons increase in value (and prestige) and their inability to tell a high-value Remington from a cheesy knock-off, are not usually included.

Art has always been a good way to store wealth IF one knows art values and is good at predicting what the future will think about it. What one is really investing in is not the actual object, but the reputation of the art and its maker. Norman Rockwell was famous in a popular way, then knocked off his pedestal by critics who thought the work was sentimental and slick, then replaced on a new pedestal by new critics who feel that Rockwell had his fingers on the pulse of America and that his skills were praiseworthy. There are many other examples.

This is what makes possible the present trend of museums, dedicated to aggregation, to use curation -- changing opinion -- to discard parts of their collection through auction or just slip them out the back loading platform in the middle of the night. If you watch the “stock market” indicator of www.askart.com or other similar websites, you’ll see the fortunes of artists and whole genres go up and down at the indicator auctions.

When the Cowboy Artists of America first banded together, their fortunes were not so rosy, but their association with the then Cowboy Hall of Fame and the promotions of Dean Krakel gradually made membership into markers of quality, so that they all sold much better. This, of course, prompted others to make that sort of art and apply for membership. Soon some streets of Scottsdale and other cowboy art towns were awash with galleries trying to cash in on this value gradient and touting the Remington principle. In the rush of popularity there was so much cowboy art that the value went down. Suddenly galleries began to say, “Buy only what you dearly love!”

Another element in the value of art is its connection to status, education and class. Partly because of the leverage of Life magazine pursuing the wild and romantic lives of Pollock and Picasso, the ordinary person was amazed that something that didn’t look like anything ("my kid could paint like that!") could sell for huge amounts of money. They also got the idea that being an artist, daringly romantic and probably drunk, was a prerequisite. This factor, a kind of frontier style, merged with the “free-range” wildcat aspect of unregulated profit-making, and an association between the political right wing and cowboy art grew up. (“At least I can tell what it is! In fact, I rode a horse like that once!”) Some of the biggest institutions that focused on cowboy art were originally endowed by natural resource millionaires. There is a reason that the Oval Office of the White House is decorated with cowboy art.

But times change. The major curators of cowboy art, let’s say Harold McCracken and Fred Renner, have ridden away over the horizon. Anyway, they were authenticators and enumerators, list aggregators. Rarely did they weigh in about composition or use of color or quality of casting. One of this type, B. Byron Price, has been shepherding a compilation of all known Russell art, with the backing of the CMRussell Museum. This will improve the value of the art work that is listed and devalue those who don’t make the list. Price is also the director of the University of Oklahoma Press and the CM Russell Center for the Study of Western Art. His friends and close associates are well-placed in institutions around the country. He has the ability to suppress all dissenters or to raise up those who will enhance his reputation. Not that McCracken and Renner didn’t do that earlier. Or even Krakel.

This is why I refer to the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel. I would love to catch someone from the Great Falls Ad Club in an unguarded moment to pick up the real causes of the breakup of the Auction. Some are probably nearly unconscious: the aging of the people who took the brunt of the work, the proliferation of other auctions with access to far more significant work. ("More significant" is not the same as “better.” It just means more aggregated and curated.) The decline in the reputation of natural resources industries, which are now often seen as plunderers and exploiters. In short, the gradient is changing, much of it depending on the popularity of the subject matter. Fascinating to watch. Full of anguish if you have a horse in the race.