Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Let’s play a little game.  Let’s go to the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction which is in Reno for historical reasons.  The gallery started in Coeur d’Alene and then sold out, leaving the name behind except for this auction in Reno.  Nowadays, with the auctions happening on the Internet, physical location matters less.  http://www.cdaartauction.com/current/  We aren’t really going, but we’ll pretend that we’re there by going to the website.  Here’s the game.  I’m going to pretend I have a zillion dollars so price is no object, and I’m going to “walk” through and tell you how I would spend my money.  
First I have to disqualify the Scriver bronze of a pack train because I was married to Bob Scriver and would naturally, out of loyalty if nothing else, buy that.  It’s a nice pack train and I’m sure it’s technically correct.  This looks like a later version of the original one that in the Fifties was commissioned by Red Harper for the Businessman’s Club, a “nice” saloon in Browning where you had to be buzzed in, though there was a window for less cleancut characters.  That packtrain version was behind the bar for many years and another casting of it was in a diorama in the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife.
I would also disqualify the Remington, though it’s a casting of the one in the White House Oval Office.  Even Obama gets his photo taken in front of it because the world associates it with America, but it’s really more of a G.W. Bush bronze.  Anyway, there are battalions of Remington bronze castings in the world: original, posthumous authorized, knock-off, really horrible imitations and so on.  Anyway, Remington was an Easterner.  I’ll pass.  
Even the Russell bronze, which is also familiar to those of us in the West, doesn’t appeal to me.  If I were buying a Russell from this auction, I’d buy the pen-and-ink “Magpie Surveying Indian Tipi Village”  which is witty, authentic, and doesn’t take up much room which is a plus since my house is full of books so hasn’t much wall space.  
Likewise, the little sketch for a large painting by Carl Rungius really appeals to me.  I always kind of like sketches more than big finished projects and the final painting was probably four or five feet on the side.  It would be interesting to find out where that painting is.  If the Glenbow in Calgary has been fulfilling it’s curatorial role, they should have a record.  Even small as this is, one can see the geometric nature of the mountains and Rungius’ characteristic X-composition.  The blue and gold palette is also there.  Bob Scriver would pounce on this because both he and Rungius loved mountain sheep beyond all the other big game animals.  Informed people now no longer speak of just Remington and Russell, but include Rungius in the “three Big R’s.”  This is partly because these days the West is seen much in terms of nature -- not just cowboys.
I’d linger over Harry Jackson’s “Pony Express” because I do love Harry and this is one of his outstanding works, but the subject matter is not all that appealing and there is a wagonload of politics connected to this whole subject.  I can’t tell you the whole thing, because all I can see is “ends” sticking out of the melee.  They aren't pretty.
I had never heard of Wilford Langdon Kihn until I saw this portrait of the Blackfeet Little Plume in his parade suit and Sioux headdress.  Its detailed and formal symmetry is remarkable and I’m sure it’s authentic.  I went to www.askart.com  where I was briefly distracted by another auction  http://www.littlejohnsauctionservice.com/index.html  I see there is an Ernie Burke bronze of a “Blackfoot Tracker” for sale.  When Bob started out, Burke and George Phippen were the only people doing bronzes of the same quality and subject matter.  But if I hopped to a different auction that would break the rules.  
Kihn was doing a kind of art related to “salvage anthropology” meaning that they had the idea Indians would soon be an extinct species and should be recorded for posterity.  Catlin was the first to capitalize on this.  Winold Reiss comes out of the same background as Kihn and has that same feel for pattern and decoration.
While I’m considering others, I’d grab the Maynard Dixon for sure.  “Sculptured Sandstone,” right on that edge between abstract and realistic that desert artists (like Georgia O’Keefe) come to.  This one has that formula for the “sublime” that C.S. Lewis said was the small land-holding up against raw and overwhelming nature.
I think I’d buy Paul Dyck’s “Warrior’s Horse.”  I love the dream-like quality of his work and I know that, though a person can’t see it here, it will be layered egg tempera glazes of European traditional skill.  (Yeah, Van Dyck was his ancestor.)  I always loved Paul Dyck anyway: short, fierce, focused.   Dyck, Jackson, Scriver are my Major Trinity.  I don’t exactly approve of people who buy art or books because of their creators and then try to wedge themselves into their creative lives, but I just happened into relationship with these atypical, unclassifiable, and renegade men -- Scriver the least renegade of the three.  (For reverse reasons, you’ll never catch me buying a Terpning painting.)
At one point Bob had managed to corner many of the giant Fery near-murals that hung in the Big Hotel in East Glacier and a lot of small Sharp sketches of the country around Browning.  I grieve that these didn’t go to someone who would keep them together.  Both are far more deserving of a place at the Montana Historical Society than the junk that sometimes accumulates there.  So I’d get the Fery “Elk in Glacier Park” but try not to look at the elk, which Fery always botched.  And Sharp’s “Summer Clouds, Taos Valley,” which is not that different from the north slope of the Rockies.
My two dearest “genres” are plein aire sketches (me and everyone else) and beautiful polished still-lifes of table settings (how corny can you get?) so I can’t resist Richard Schmidt’s “In the Studio.”   Who the heck is Gunnar Widforss?  Oh, I don’t care.  I want his “Mountain Landscape.”  

How many is that?  I don’t care about that either really.  I see a Wyeth but I don’t want it.  Where are the Russell Chatham paintings?  There are never Chatham paintings.  I suspect it’s because no one wants to auction theirs off, no matter how much they need money.  The really good Scrivers are not in auctions either.

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