Thursday, March 02, 2017


"Robe for his Bride" by Bob Scriver

Technically March 1 is the first day of spring.  A glance out the window shows snow and the thermometer says somewhere below twenty degrees, in spite of a vigorous blow-through by a Chinook wind yesterday.  But the annual CMR Museum auction is in about two weeks (Charlie Russell’s birthday) and it is reassuring to remember that in previous years, one could usually drive there on bare roads while wearing a jacket instead of a winter coat.  A handful of times there has been a blizzard.  And the most dangerous trip I ever made was delivering a load of bronzes to Cody just before May 1 in the Sixties.  The plowed snow was higher than the van.

The CMR auction catalogue has been posted for a while, a way to browse without any risk and at leisure so as to reflect.  The mechanics of the online catalogue get a little smoother every year.  One can buy a hard copy to keep for reference.

There is only one Scriver bronze in this auction.  I hadn’t seen it before.  Page 127.  No year is given.  The high limit on castings and the subject matter suggest to me that it was part of the group he made late in life according to some entrepreneur’s idea for a piece that might sell, which the entrepreneur bought as a prototype for ceramic-shell casting.  The idea was that the buyer also acquired the copyright, issued a certificate of provenance authentication, and managed the whole project through his or her own choice of foundries and so on.  It was an old man's strategy.  The anonymous private collector would most likely simply have bought the casting from the entrepreneur.

14x22x10 inches
$8,000 - 12,000  
Provenance:  private collection in Massachusetts

Hunter by his horse approaching animal on the ground  (bear?)

I was surprised by p. 211, which is composed around Scriver stationary on which I typed many a letter in the Sixties.  It’s a page of praise from Scriver to Charlie Fritz, giving the advice to get a room at the Russell Auction, and includes a good photo of the two men together.  The letter dates to 1991.  (Bob divorced me in 1970.)  It’s absolutely sincere.  Bob yearned to be able to paint like Fritz and Fritz admired Bob the artist as much as his work.  

Such a relationship is rather rare in “cowboy” art, which tends to be competitive.  Fritz never knew Ace Powell, who was Bob’s close friend and good influence since grade school and a man who believed in community and sharing.  Especially in a bar.  Many of Bob’s best impulses came from Ace, including this kind of admiration and friendship.

I rarely travel even as far as Great Falls, but this year it’s a temptation because the seminars include Brian Dippie (p 68), who in a similarly generous gesture, wrote the introduction to my biographical memoir of Bob Scriver, “Bronze Inside and Out,” published by the University of Calgary Press.  (Available on Amazon.)  

It is a book that attempts to be a comprehensive guide to the history of Western bronzes, including French bronze casting of Beaux Arts memorial statues in the 19th century, the shift from selling through galleries to auctions, and the beginnings of the Cowboy Artists of America in the pattern of the Society of Animal Artists.  I explained the method of lost wax casting, the building of our own Bighorn Foundry which did Roman block casting, and the benefit of being included in the New York City exhibits of classical sculpture (Audubon Artists, National Sculpture Society), which certified to early buyers that Western subjects were “real art.”

Nothing is very shocking in this year’s show.  Since there’s no more Van Kirke Nelson, there’s no more Ace Powell.  The prismatic/chromatic bear heads and horses persist.  “Fauvism” (wild color) is popular.  Ledger art is welcome but I’m not sure whites “get it.”  Landscapes and wildlife for the liberal Democrats co-exist with the cowboys and Indians for Republicans.  I enjoy vignettes like Nelson Boren’s “Bushed” (p 181) — I don’t think he intended a pun, but it would be a lovely piece to live with.

Ned Jacob has several pieces.  p. 189 and 190.  He has a more beautiful drawing “hand” than any other contemporary artist, but though he spent early years with Ace and Bob and went on to be a noted teacher, he’s always kept a low profile.  (website at  P. 191 some classic Roland Reed photos, like the ones Bob always displayed with his Blackfeet series of bronzes.

P. 178 shows two items familiar to we old-timers.  One is a huge Fery mural of Glacier Park that used to hang in the East Glacier “Big Hotel” as it was commissioned for.  The other is a trademark Earl Heikka pack train, originally made in a sort of paper mach√© that only he had the patience to handle, but now recast in bronze.  P. 152 is also a bronze casting which was probably made from the wood carving original by John Clarke.  I used to always rendezvous with Joyce Clarke Turvey at the auction, but she’s gone now.  Her granddaughter runs the gallery, but this “Fighting Bulls” is coming from a customer.  The work was done in 1924, the high achievement part of Clarke’s career.

Bob Scriver’s niece called me from Bozeman a few days ago to say she’d bought one of Bob’s bronzes at an auction there.  Evidently there is an on-going series of auctions there, sometimes associated with good causes.  She and Bob got along like two cats in a bucket of ice water, so she had lots of questions.  Bronzes are problematic for someone without much experience because it’s easy enough to make a mold of anything.  Training an “eye” takes years of careful looking for clues to workmanship.  Composition alone is three-dimensional, which isn’t simple.  Most people just go by subject matter, which has nothing to do with the execution of the idea.  Their awareness of an artist's style is limited.

It’s been fifty years since all this started.  The Bob Scriver award, originally tied to people who knew Charlie Russell, has timed out and been replaced by the Heritage Award.  Today I hardly know any of these people and don’t understand them.  They’re good business people, not the colorful and often troublesome characters I used to know, who were a lot more like Charlie Russell.

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