Bob Scriver was born in 1914, approximately at the beginning of WWI, so 2014 will be the centennial year of his birth. I want to mark it somehow and what is within my powers is a “book,” maybe a hundred pages long, 8 1/2” by 11”, with content that people will actually read. At this point Bob’s peers are mostly dead, though he really began his sculpture career about twenty years late, so in that sense there are a few left. The truth is that most people now have little or no consciousness of him and -- worse than that -- most people really don’t give a damn except to want to know how much his work is worth. They cannot grasp that all art is only worth what people are willing to pay for it, which varies greatly over time and place. In fact, almost everything varies in value according to circumstances.
In this post I'm speculating on what I might include in this projected “book,” which will be little more than a long magazine article. If people want to read an exhaustive account of Bob’s life, context, and place in history, they should read “Bronze Inside and Out: a Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver,” published by the U of Calgary Press, available online. No bookstores carry it, not even the Montana Historical Society which owns Bob’s estate.
In Montana everything is dominated by the pattern of Charlie Russell -- even the reality of the man himself is obliterated by the legendary template and attempts to differ from it will be quickly suppressed. Bob Scriver was a sculptor, which means that from the very beginning the story must be different. Both men constantly worked bits of malleable material -- wax, plastilene, river bank clay, whatever. It’s the art medium of cast bronze that defines Scriver far more than Russell.
Bust of Washington by Houdon
About the time of the founding of the United States of America, all fine sculpture was cut from white marble by Italians. When it was time to commemorate Washington and so on, Houdon, a Frenchman, had to be imported to make the figures and then they were cut in Italy, shipped back to the US. So strong was the influence that Washington was depicted in a toga. (Here on the high prairie the horse had just arrived.)
by Barye, Animalier
Then about the time of the American Civil War, bronze had replaced marble. I should look all this up, but I’m sketching here. It’s just a guide -- YOU look it up! The ability to make finally detailed bronze sculptures, much less fragile than marble, made possible the Animaliers and Rodin. If you watch the set dressing on BBC shows like Downton Abbey, you see a lot of small bronze objects, especially on desks. To show sophistication, many are depictions of Romans with rearing horses. Those are probably "pot metal," a lesser alloy. (By this time the buffalo were being eliminated and the prairies were being cleared of Indians. Charlie arrives in Montana.)
by Saint Gaudens
The next war is WWI and metal is converted to armaments. Blackfeet become soldiers. A small boy is born in Browning, a second son named Robert. By the time the war ends and recovery is underway, he is old enough to read and spends time sprawled out with the newspaper which comes with one page of local news and three pages printed en masse somewhere else. Favorite stories feature the new monuments to heroism created by sculptors educated in Paris, esp. at the Ecole de Beaux Arts. Nowadays not many of us know the names of the sculptors, but we recognize their work because in heroic-sized monuments it has stood in parks a long time. Usually they are men on horses. These works are the ones to whom Bob Scriver aspired. His natural home is not Cowboy Artists of America, but rather the National Sculpture Society founded by the Beaux Arts representational bronze sculptors. This creates a problem, a split in potential appreciators, since the subject matter goes one way and the art medium goes another.
Bronze is also problematic because the cost of production, both in terms of exertion and capital, is far higher than for a painting. Bob became convinced early on that one way to survive was to be his own foundry, his own gallery, and -- of course -- his own and only artist. So we learned to cast “Roman block lost wax” sculptures that demanded great technical expertise, a certain amount of danger. and intense energy.
This was in the early Sixties, just as the Space Age began. The technology of creating metal parts made huge jumps, not least the invention of ceramic shell casting. It was as though the printing press had been replaced by computer printers: a steep drop in the cost and expertise of production. People could cast bronze replicas of their children’s creations in their own backyards. Most people cannot tell much about quality in almost every humanities pursuit: painting, sculpture, writing, dance, music. The schools don’t teach the principles. The media only wants to know what will sell and that means quick, dirty and preferably shocking.
"Transition" by Bob Scriver
Art is like religion (in the sense of systems of thought that support meaning and a sense of significance) in that it has to be present but not necessarily available to conscious reflection, but when the culture is wealthy in time and money, it is much more conscious and explored which makes the value go up. But the money has to be seen as a means rather than an end. So when the Blackfeet were flush with oil money the first time (there’s a little echo these days with frakking) they laid out a promenade of monuments. It was never built, but this is the impetus for Bob’s first significant meant-to-be-monument works. “Transition,” “No More Buffalo,” “Return of the Blackfeet Raiders,” “Real Meat,” were worked out with the advice of Iliff McKay and Blackie Wetzel, leaders at the time.
Parallel to the development of these works was a path also followed by Earl Heikka, going along with Charlie: “modeling” rather than sculpture, meaning one-of-a-kind, nostalgic, colored, full of detail meant to be accurate, near-dioramas. Gordon Monroe has picked up this genre. For Bob this was braided together with his taxidermy career, which bridged him over from his first career as a musician, his love of hunting, and his admiration of the world class dioramas presenting mounted animals in the major natural history museums, like the Field Museum in Chicago where he went to school as a young man. His notion of a personal collection justified by usefulness to animal artists drew him into the newly formed Society of Animal Artists.
"An Honest Try" by Bob Scriver
The climax of Bob’s career was probably the rodeo series, though a case could be made for the Lewis and Clark monuments. The rodeo pieces hinged on the commission for a portrait of Bill Linderman in what was then the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. It came about because of rodeo hands who had worked for Bob pulling him into the contest just before it closed.
There is another strand, much more private and often misunderstood. A commission for a “corpus,” the body of Jesus the Christ on the cross, coincided with the cancer death of his daughter and renewed connection to his brother and sister-in-law from his second marriage. (The daughter was from a first marriage.) Her bust, the busts of Maurice Chaillot, the model for the corpus, and then of Heléne DeVicq when both posed for a Pieta, form a little cluster that has little to do with Christianity, but everything to do with grief. It met a dead end in a statue of Jesus big enough to enter and go up into on stairs. Never built.
There are hundreds more sculptures, some just for fun, some for money, and so on. Just making a list of them is an on-going task. I try to keep track on Scriverart.blogspot.com but new pieces show up all the time. What are they worth? How much do you want them?