Monday, February 28, 2011


We’re getting close to Charlie Russell’s birthday, which used to be the date of the landmark Great Falls Ad Club Auction in Great Falls.  Last year for the first time the main auction was not held, for various reasons, and success at the smaller ones was mixed, also for various reasons.  Part of the change was due to the recession, but also the passage of time had a great deal of influence.  It is getting so Charlie Russell is a senior citizen figure.  When one looked at the big auction crowd, there were a lot of gray and even white heads.
The following “classifieds” are from which is a website that keeps track of American (a few Canadian) artists -- not just Western artists but more usually historical than contemporary.  I’ve taken off the names of the people who posted these but you can find the names, conveniently linked to the person’s email, at  In combination, auctions and this sort of website which monitors auctions, have come to act as adjuncts to galleries.  
If you want to know what things are selling for, this is the go-to website.  If you want to know their VALUE, you won’t find much curation beyond the artist’s life stories and a list of books and magazines that consider him or her.   That’s very helpful, but if you are wondering about how much something will sell for at the NEXT auction, much depends on who is there, the general economy, and other dynamics no one can control, like weather.  The gambler dynamic is part of the game.  You can use the site to locate an expert.
found.... bob scriver sculpture " six point bull"

Today at a thrift store in cda Idaho I found and purcheased what I am certain is an original Bob scriver bronze six point bull sculpture. It is engraved with his name and the date 1984 and 110/110. It asking says " six point bull". I paid $6 for it at St Vincent depaul. It is obviously bronze and original. I am wondering if this should be in a museum or a collection somewhere. I am not a collector and I would like it to be in the right place. Not looking for money just a good home if it is real which I am certain it is. Its about 12" tall and sits on a wood base. Very heavy..... thank you 
Scriver & Powell bronzes
I have several bronzes I need help pricing. Powell:Blood Man & Woman, On Alert, Sun Mt. Colt and Spring Foal.
Scriver: Iola's Otter, Paul's Bull and Sage Brush.
Any info will be helpful.
Bob Scriver PAINTING
I have found a Bob Scriver Painting in my parents estate. It is signed and dated 1955. The picture is of a pronghorn antelope. There is a sticker on the back, "Bob Scriver Taxidermy and Art Studio. Western Sculpter of North America Big Game in Minature." with Phone number and address. There were other unsigned paintings of Pheasants & other birds. I don't think it's his style, but I don't think they were his. Just curious if anyone has other Scriber paintings? Thank You-Elsie Miller
4 Bronzes by Scriver
I was blessed to receive as gifts 4 bronzes by Bob Scriver:

1. No 67 of 100 "1861 Mail (Pony Express)"
2. No. 84 of 110 "Six Point Bull" - a beautiful elk
3. No. 72 of 100 "In Season (Big Horn Ram)
4. No. 55 of 100 "Rex's Bull (buffalo)

These were the nicest gifts ever given to me and my family. Can someone give me an idea of their worth. 
Trained by television shows that feature “experts” who tell people what their attic finds are worth, people know that they may have something that is more valuable than they think, and in this age of commodification are not backwards about pricing gifts.  Particularly in the American West where Charlie Russell was famous for producing works that ended up stored someplace because inheritors thought that cowboy subjects indicated low-brow and low-value work, many alert aficionadoes have carefully worked their way through places like the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store and a few have made major finds.
Some things are not likely to be desirable to a major gallery.  Bob Scriver’s early paintings are likely to be valuable mostly to people who knew him.  Some of them may be “learning copies” of work by more developed artists.  With Russell there’s always the problem of Seltzer paintings looking just like Charlie’s to the untrained eye.  With Scriver it was me who painted just like him sometimes because we went out to make sketches side-by-side and stole ideas from each other.

Here’s Bob at the St. Mary’s cabin with the day’s “take.”  Mine is the smaller painting on the left.  This was in the mid-Sixties.
When dealing with bronzes there are several different factors to consider which I have laid out in my other blog: and in my biography of Bob:  “Bronze Inside and Out.”  The chief difficulty has been the failure of any dealer to promote his work or support his “mythology” in the way he did himself when he was alive.  His estate is not even exhibited.
The second biggest problem is that a three-dimensional sculpture is vulnerable to technological advances that changed the dynamics of bronzes as much as electronic books have changed publishing.  Suddenly bronzes were easy to copy, they were everywhere, an untrained eye couldn’t tell good from bad, and they were cheap to produce.  The general public, esp. in a place like Montana where people know the subjects of the art but not the qualities or business of art, can only tell that a bronze is metal and doesn’t fuss around about how many were cast, what the casting flaws might be, the importance of provenance, and so on.
Subject matter counts for a lot, with cowboys and Indians in action poses being the most valuable for a long time.  Things come in and out of “political” opinion so right now you’d probably have to be a certain kind of person to want a big rodeo bronze like “Paywindow,” which goes in and out of auctions for much less that I think it will eventually be worth.  I think the casting going around is one we did in Browning and that I worked on.  At the time it was considered very daring.  It’s BIG and that makes a difference, too.  In the era of big houses, which is just ending, this would be great.  In a small apartment, not so much.

From the beginning Bob Scriver sold smaller pieces to local people.  Towards the end he made many modestly-sized pieces to order for entrepreneurs who “published” them using their own foundries and galleries.  These have less value than scarce sculptures that he cast earlier in his own Bighorn Foundry, using a traditional method.  They were meant to be that way.  Most Montana people who have them are not thinking in terms of investment as much as about the direct connection with the artist.
One does wonder how that bull elk got into the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.  Someone died?  An unappreciative spouse?  Just a plain outright mistake?  Keep an eye peeled!

Sunday, February 27, 2011


My movie last night (I finally stopped watching “Coco Before Chanel” over and over) was “Thin Ice” with Tom Selleck.  This is part of the “Jesse Stone” detective series written by Robert B. Parker in the third person instead of the first person of “Spencer” and with a “much more damaged” protagonist.  I liked it well enough to put the other episodes on my queue.  But the point is that Jesse Stone is intended to be tough and knowing, which I think I am or try to be, and I found I was behind the curve.  
A baby has been kidnapped.  The detective, who is a tough guy, is told babies used to be kidnapped out of yearning for a child by someone who can’t produce their own.  But nowadays babies are stolen to sell their parts for transplant into rich people's sick babies.  In the end the solution to this plot turns out to be old-fashioned.  A doubleback, a red herring.  So motivations nowadays are a mix of old and new.  But the point is that the commodification of babies has proceeded so far that their humanity is entirely lost.  The fact that they are living doesn’t matter so long as their parts are “market fresh.”  And, like the detective, we haven’t realized.  People are interchangeable now.  Statistics.  Avatars in the global game.
All my life it has been my preoccupation to try to understand people of every kind, regardless of their appropriateness or social status, regardless of what they thought of me or indeed whether they WANTED to be understood.  It’s a mixture of old motives (liberal inclusion) and new (simple curiosity -- or that the older motive?).  Maybe I just got it from books.  

I thought Unitarian Universalism, explicitly based on inclusion, would be friendly to that notion, but it turned out they only meant they would include people essentially like themselves regardless of nationality, skin color, LGBTWhatever, or income.  But they would not tolerate ignorance, intolerance, cruelty, etc.  And they find, I think, that tolerance for things that really don’t matter is not a strong enough motive to hold a group together.  Anyway, why would anyone tolerate ignorance, intolerance, or cruelty?   (Um, to understand them?)
Then I thought, “Well, a minister is like Jesus -- a person who can walk into dens of iniquity and sit down for a chat with Mary Magdalene without being rejected.”  Be a good influence.  Wrong.  That notion was murdered long ago.  The work of a minister is to be the ideal of the community -- irreproachable.  If you associate with scruffy people, you will be reproached.  (Did I say I’m reading “Gilead?”)
There is another theory:  that only the person who is in a category (ethnic, victim, poor, gender, and -- I suppose -- also “up” categories: wealthy, gifted, educated) can truly write about it with meaning.  Or indeed can be ALLOWED to write about it.  Clearly, one would like to make money from one’s identity, whether it’s actually a disadvantage or an advantage.   But how are they supposed to “write” or “paint” authentically when they have no tradition or opportunity to learn writing or painting?  How do you educate people enough to communicate with the rest of us without changing them to be like us?  This is the great Native American dilemma: assimilate or be authentic to a time that no longer exists.  It's a conformity issue.

Anyway, how do you get the larger community to care or pay attention?  By romanticizing, right?  And that means faking.  It also means guarding the borders so no one finds out you’re faking.  If people find out that Indians are pretty much like everyone else, that women are not that different from men, that poor people are different from rich people because they don’t have as much money, then what is it all really about?
In the meantime we lose the careful attentiveness over time that is the source of intimacy.  I used to have a friend, a big smart kind but action-oriented old cop who was a lot like that detective.  He’d read a paperback mystery every night, but he never really finished them.  As soon as he figured out who the perp was and why, he threw them aside.  To him, life was a puzzle.  He liked me.  He never had any idea what I was about.  He’d have liked me to be closer to him.  If he’d figured it out, he’d have been closer but it would have destroyed his self-image, which was based on figuring things out quickly and dealing with them.  But I could sit there reading the same page over and over, tasting the words, trying to see through the writing to the author’s world.
The contrast might be Dave Tebeau, a handsome multi-racial guy who was a building inspector when I was working for the City of Portland.  (I think he still is.)  His task, of course, was to make sure a specific building met the building code, but that was actually a matter of persuading the builder this was what he ought to do -- often the builder didn’t want to or he just didn’t understand.  (It generally costs more.)  Dave could get compliance while other inspectors would be run off the property or punched out.  We asked him what the secret was.  He said attentiveness.  He read the builder’s body language, his facial expressions, his choice of language, and all that stuff -- then he adapted to it.  If the man seemed uncomfortable with the distance between them, Dave moved back a little.  If he wanted to come close, Dave let him.  He watched the eyes, the level of tension, the gestures.  And then he adapted, using the information he had gathered.  There was never an “end” except when the job was done.  He didn’t “solve” the man, diagnose him, or use a label.  Instead he thinned out the boundary between them until he could sense what this specific builder was about.
People get married knowing a lot less.  People know far less than this about their own kids.  Hey, I’m understating.  Some people would sell their spouse plus their kids to be “parted out” -- and do.  They pay more attention to their dog and pickup.  The temptation is to just avoid such people -- they are too reptilian to understand.  But maybe the larger question is what dynamics in our society create and protect such people.  This demands a lot more thought.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


These books are for sale at Buckingham Books  I never buy any of them, but I like to receive the lists in order to ponder them, partly because the books are carefully curated.  Here I’m editing the regular mailing list which I’m sure they’d be happy to send you.
These guys have what I’m calling “Wounded Knee Syndrome,” meaning they are in love with the 19th century mythic accounts of battles, captures, heroism, and their artistic portrayal.  Somehow they see it as “key” to the world.  I ponder how and why.
What is the juju of the prairie clearance Indian wars?  Why does it grip some men so thoroughly that it has the same power as Greek mythology or Shakespeare, crowding out any thoughts of studying, say, the Indian Health Service or why half the land on the Blackfeet reservation is now owned by Hutterites?  Look at the rhetoric in these descriptions.
[MONTANA/WYOMING]. MCDERMOTT, JOHN D. RED CLOUD'S WAR: THE BOZEMAN TRAIL 1866-1868. TWO VOLUMES. Norman: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2010. First edition. 8vo. Two volume set. Cloth, xx, 325 pp., / ix, 326 - 651 pp., preface, acknowledgments, illustrated, portraits, facsimilies, maps, footnotes, postscript, bibliography, index. The author's masterful retelling of the Fetterman Disaster is just one episode of Red Cloud's War. The discovery of gold in Montana in 1863 led to the opening of the 250 mile route from Fort Laramie to the goldfields near Virginia City, and the fortification of this route with three military posts. The road crossed the last, best hunting grounds of the Northern Plains tribes, and they mounted a campaign of armed resistance against the army and Montana-bound settlers. Among a host of small but bloody clashes were such major battles as the Fetterman Disaster, the Wagon Box Fight, and the Hayfield Fight, all of them famous in the annals of Indian Wars. The setbacks suffered by the U. S. Army were many, and what reputation for effectiveness it had gained during the Civil War dissipated in the skirmishing in Big Horn country. By successfully defending their hunting grounds, the Northern Plains tribes delayed an ultimate reckoning that would come a decade later on the Little Bighorn, on the Red Forks of the Powder River, at Slim Buttes, at Wolf Mountain, and in a dozen other places where warrior and trooper met in the final clashes on the western plains. As new, without dust jacket as issued. $75.00 (30398)
The more ephemeral, the least public, the privately printed works never quite published, are the most valuable.  Sort of a Wikileaks factor, maybe.  The idea that something privileged will be revealed. 
CARROLL, JOHN M. [EDITED BY]. THE UNPUBLISHED PAPERS OF THE ORDER OF INDIAN WARS IN TEN BOOKLETS. New Brunswick: Privately published, n.d. (1977). First edition. 8vo. Each booklet is blue printed wrappers, each booklet is limited to 100 numbered copies and signed by the author. Each booklet is numbered 2. Fine copies. Housed in a cloth slipcase with a paper label on spine and titles stamped in black ink. $575.00 (29570)
I have a copy of the following, which I am hoarding in case I need the money.  I acquired it for thirty bucks when the cataloguer spelled Reiss wrong, therefore not accessing the true value, and so did I, accidentally bringing it up.  There’s a motive: investment.
LINDERMAN, FRANK B. BLACKFEET INDIANS. [St. Paul: Great Northern Ry, 1935]. First edition. Large quarto. Cloth and decorated boards, yellow endpapers, 67 [1] pp., foreword, full-page illustrations in color, index. Forty nine full color drawings of Blackfeet Indians by Winold Reiss. All historical and biographical text by Frank B. Linderman. A handsome tribute to the Blackfeet Indians. Light wear to extremities of boards, else very good, tight copy in dust jacket with light wear to spine ends. $400.00 (25009)
Frederick Turner has become an iconic figure and his understanding of the frontier controls much thinking.  This is the guy to overturn if you want to make an impression.  Good luck.  You may need this book.
[WISCONSIN]. TURNER, PH.D., FREDERICK J. THE CHARACTER AND INFLUENCE OF THE INDIAN TRADE IN WISCONSIN. A STUDY OF THE TRADING POST AS AN INSTITUTION. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1891. Issued as No XI-XII, Ninth Series of the Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical & Political Science, edited by Herbert B. Adams. Turner's Ph.D. thesis, a substantially expanded version of his similarly titled master's thesis, The Character and Influence of the Fur Trade, published by the Univ. of Wisconsin, where he taught American history in 1899. Turner's views on the impact of the receding frontier on American democracy, first articulated in his 1894 monograph, The Significance of the Frontier in American History, influenced an entire generation of historians, and despite recent controversy are still essential to our understanding of how we became the nation we are today. Printed wrappers, 94pp. plus 16pp. of ads. Internally fine, but the original tan wrappers have been reinforced around the cover perimeters with masking tape, which no doubt has served to insure the integrity of the booklet. It is not a professional job and may, at sometime, need to be rebound. $350.00 (7512)
One can add to the thrill by factoring in the Confederates.  
[CIVIL WAR]. DAVIS, WILLIAM J. [EDITED BY]. THE PARTISAN RANGERS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES ARMY. Louisville: Geo. G. Fetter Company, 1904. First edition. 8vo. Original maroon cloth, gold stamping on front cover and spine, decorated endpapers, xii [2], 476 pp., frontis. [portrait of Brigadier General Adam R. Johnson], preface, illustrated, plates, portraits. Jenkins' Basic Texas Books 108 says, "This is one of the most interesting first-hand narratives of Texas Indian fighting, stagecoaching, and Confederate cavalry operations. Johnson fought Indians in Texas in the 1850s, was a driver for the Butterfield Overland Stage in Texas, and surveyed a vast amount of virgin territory in West Texas. In the Civil War his famed Texas Partisan Rangers cavalry unit fought under Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan. Wounded and blinded, he was imprisoned in Fort Warren. After the war, in spite of his blindness, he was so active in pioneering business ventures in West Texas that his home of Marble Falls became known as 'the blind man's town." Graff 2213 says, "The story of a very brave and daring man. His Indian warfare experiences in Texas in the late 1850s, when he was connected with the Butterfield Stage outfit and also when as a surveyor he surveyed much virgin territory, are almost beyond belief. The same or more can be said of his Civil War service in Kentucky as a Partisan Ranger." Original maroon cloth has light cosmetic professional retoration to head of spine and along bottom edge of front cover, and former owner's inked name on front pastedown sheet, else very good copy. $875.00 HOWES J122. COULTER 257. GRAFF 2213. BTB 108. NEVINS I 113. (30403)
Everybody loves a loser, esp. when they make money from it.  So this has double juju, maybe triple:  Civil war, Indian war, town founding.
[TEXAS]. BROWN, JOHN HENRY. INDIAN WARS AND PIONEERS OF TEXAS. Austin: L. E. Daniel, Publisher, [1896]. First edition. Thick quarto. Full leather with spine professionally restored in full leather, 762 pp., all edges gilt, double column, dedicatory preface, introduction, illustrated, portraits, index. Basic Texas Books 23 says "This is Brown's most important book and one of the best works on Texas Indian fighters and early pioneers. The information was gathered over his entire fifty years in Texas, and the text was completed shortly before his death. Most valuable of all are accounts of the numerous fights and skirmishes between early Texans and Indians. Only in J. W. Wilbarger and A. J. Sowell does one find a comparable amount of historical data on this facet of Texas history. Brown was himself a participant in some of the bloodiest battles." There are many photographs of early prominent Texans, along with a biographical sketch of each pioneer. Endpapers replaced, internal spine hinges have been strengthened, else a near fine, tight copy of a very scarce book. $1750.00 BTB 23. HOWES B857. RADER 514. (30404)
I won’t go much further, but a leather binding really gives a book a boost.  So nice to have on the shelf or casually out on the table for people to admire.  There's no such thing as e-leather bindings!  These are books as objects with juju like weapons or armor or (gasp) a scalp.
CARTER, ROBERT G. THE OLD SERGEANT'S STORY, WINNING THE WEST FROM THE INDIANS AND BAD MEN IN 1870-1876. New York: Frederick H. Hitchcock, 1926. First edition. 8vo. Presentation inscription by Carter in the year of publication to his daughter, Nellie. Cloth, 220 pp., 8 plates. The author was a recognized Medal of Honor recipient; a participant in many campaigns against Comanche and Kiowa hostiles with Col. Ranald Mackenzie's 4th Cavalry. In 1919 & 1920, he published several pamphlets, now rare, about his Indian-fighting experiences on the southern plains. John B. Charlton, the "Old Sergeant", a comrade of Carter's throughout their years with the 4th Cavalry, read Carter's stories and wrote to Carter in 1921. This began a year and a half of frequent, lengthy correspondence between Carter and Charlton, that ended with Charlton's death in March, 1922. Through the detailed, warm correspondence between the two, Carter presents an insightful, first-hand account of the legendary campaigns of Mackenzie's 4th Cavalry from 1871 through 1874. "Mackenzie's Raid" into Mexico; the capture of outlaw "Red" McLaughlin by Charlton and, famous scout, Jack Stillwell; and the 4th Cavalry battles against the Comanches and Kiowas at McClellan's Creek, Palo Duro Canyon, and the north fork of the Red River are among the many incidents recorded. Of special interest is Charlton's account of the killing of Setank, by Charlton, when Setank, Big Tree, and Satanta were being transported to Ft. Richardson, Texas to stand trial for the killing of 7 teamsters of the Warren Wagon Train when they were attacked by Indians east of Ft. Richardson. In addition, Charlton tells Carter about his experience in Colorado, as an \pard softlineindependent freight hauler, when, under escort of Major Thornburgh, they were attacked by Ute Indians and kept under siege for 6 days before being rescued. Charlton was hauling freight to the White River Agency in 1879, when the Utes killed Agent Meeker, captured Meeker's wife and daughter, and wreaked havoc throughout the region. Great history, and a warm and occasionally touching reflection of two "old soldiers." Indian wars historian, John M. Carroll wrote that "Carter's enormously important writings on frontier military history will be recognized as source material for all future historians." An important, first-hand record. Completely recased in the manner of the original publication, with both the cloth and text being in fine condition. An elusive title. $1000.00 HOWES C194. SIX GUNS 383. (30156)
Nothing quite so stirring as a captive story.   (Intimations of exotic sex!)   And personal inscriptions count for a lot.
ALESHIRE, PETER. THE FOX AND THE WHIRLWIND: GENERAL GEORGE CROOK AMD GERONIMO, A PAIRED BIOGRAPHY. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., [2000]. First edition. 8vo. Boards, xii, 372 pp., preface, prologue, illustrated, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Captivating dual biography chronicles the lives and battles of two famous warriors, the legendary Apache shaman, Geronimo, and the nation's most successful Indian fighter, General George Crook. Fine in dust jacket. $45.00 (30528)
By the time one gets to these reconciling “let’s make up or at least look at both sides” sorts of accounts, both the money and the juju have gone out of the books.  Juju follows violent victory, money follows juju.  Did you think someone READ the old books?  They’re too fragile, too potent, too capitalist investment.  Too Ronald Reagan triumphalist old white man.  
If you’d be embarrassed to read such books, I have a suggestion:  “THE LOST JOURNALS OF SACAJAWEA, visionary narrative written by a contemporary Indian woman, a prize-winning college professor; illustrated by haunting ghostly photo images on fine paper; letterpress printed -- 70 copies.  This is an ultimate book-as-fine-object with a portfolio-style cover of smoked buffalo rawhide, the spine embellished with trade beads and bullet cartridges.  $3500.  An investment for the sophisticated.  Hopefully there are women who will be able to afford a copy.  To take a look, go to:

Friday, February 25, 2011


The federal government defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman” (DOMA, Section 3). It passed both houses of Congress by large majorities.  Having been a minister who performed marriages for ten years, I have a few opinions about this.  I am NOT interested in the genders of the parties concerned.  I think this Noah’s ark notion of one of each kind is predicated on the idea that the UNION in question is sexual with the purpose of creating and sharing property, namely children. 
What a can of worms.  All cleverly sweetened and disguised by the meringue of wedding dresses and the cherry on top of religion.  The important word here is UNION.  What’s a legal UNION?   What if I went partners with someone to buy a house or start a business, wouldn’t that be a legal union?  
I was always bothered by the pretense that marriage was religious when people walked into the church asking to be married there because it was “pretty.”  The only thing they knew about religion was what they saw in the movies.  In fact, that’s about all they knew about raising children.  As far as paying off a mortgage or managing household finances, they knew nothing at all.  They couldn't cook, knew nothing about nutrition or basic home nursing.  And the idea of doing some counseling and exploring of expectations with the minister sent them indignantly stalking out of the church.
When I did my internship, where I was under the supervision of a seasoned minister, a couple came in to reserve the church for a wedding.  It was summer.  They were quite young.  The blonde, gorgeous guy was wearing satin shorts, gold chains and a diamond in his ear.  He put his feet up on their side of my desk.  The pudgy girl was wearing a sundress and had finger-shaped bruises on her arms. They freely admitted that he did it.  I refused to marry them.  My supervising minister was very upset.  It was “not done” to turn people away and the church needed the money.  So that’s what religion means.
The social and economic pressure that used to hold marriage together has little to do with the gender of the partners or even the quality of their sexual unions.  It was about maintaining stability in a community so that taxes got paid, inheritance was clear, and ownership of property was registered.  It might be meant to create family alliances.  Women and children were property, not so long ago.  The status of Thomas Jefferson’s white wife was marriage; the status of the mother of his other children was slavery.  The two wives had the same father.  The subtleties of patriarchy as opposed to slave owning are, well, very subtle.  Mostly social and economic pressure.
If women can control fertility, survive pregnancy, and ameliorate the pain and drudgery of having children, that eliminates one set of trading cards.  If women can earn their own living, there goes another set of trading cards.  If a guy can move in with a gal, get her pregnant without marriage, live an independent life but return any time it’s convenient, is he her husband or her fertilizing son?  What happened to the laws about fornication and bastards?  Choke.  Cough.  Surely there are more high-minded and useful ways to define a “union” than by the gender and number of the persons involved.  We threw race out.   What are the goals?  Personal happiness?  Social harmony?  Not just granting sexual access (Are you kidding?) or forcing compliance (That’s rape!)
When I was called by my own churches, I got so I refused to do weddings unless at least one of the people was a member of my congregation.  In some traditions the wedding is performed BY the congregation, the way a congregation ordains someone, attesting to their opinion that this person is qualified and respected.  Why isn’t marriage just as important?   There is a place in some wedding ceremonies for the congregation to pledge their support and affection for the new family and swear to help if there is trouble.  Can’t very well do it if the only reason the couple is there is that the church is pretty and the only reason the attenders are there is to get drunk at the party afterwards.  And, oh yes, to provide gifts.
So the law pretends to authorize this “union,” sets no standards for it except sometimes requiring a doctor’s certificate that both people are free of the more threatening diseases, and taking a major interest in the accountability for money and property (children) but providing no support, not even maternity leave.  Maybe a tax advantage.  Some countries provide by law “maternity” leave that applies to fathers, gay couples, and adopters, because we now know the very crucial nature of the early years of a person’s existence, including the months before birth. Not this country.  Births go unregistered, babies are quietly disposed of before and after birth.
Our support for families with children is spotty.  Dear Abby this week had a question from the mother of a family with three children.  They had lost their jobs and house so were living in their car.  The question was that now the father had found work, but it wasn’t enough money yet to get them into housing, so should the mother take the children to a shelter and pretend the father had deserted so they would qualify?  Which would leave the kids without their dad.  Or should they tough it out in the car until the money for rent accumulated?
There must be thousands of kinds of "unions."  Intellectual, dependent, transgender marriage that persist past the gender change, May/December, communal, business-related, and so on.  Yet we stick with the same old nineteenth century anthropological rough-cuts of number and gender, ignoring the different advantages and demands under the different circumstances.  Always and always, context counts.  
I’m not exactly clear what the context of marriage is in the USA right now.  Negotiable, I guess.  Incest is not a good idea and genetic counseling might be advised if children are the goal.  But sometimes the child comes first and then the marriage, which is more or less acceptance of the need to partner up to raise it.  Some people use marriage as a rite of passage into adulthood, but what are the proofs of adulthood?  Economic success?  Who can guarantee it?  What about mixed cultures: wildly different ideas about marriage?
The most depraved reason for marriage is the excessive and expensive nature of the ceremony.  Maybe we should pass a law limiting the expense of marriage.  How about a ten per cent tax on extravaganzas?  

Thursday, February 24, 2011


  1. Born here: historic immigration in boom times.
  2. Local family ties, sometimes the need to support older family members
  3. Grain farming, some of it on dry land where the only source of family water is a cistern filled from Valier wells.  Other farming entwined with the irrigation business: Pondera Canal Company which manages the impoundment that is Lake Francis, the feeder system that originates at Swift Dam and all the ditches.  This is the main reason for the existence of Valier.
  4.   Businesses in support of grain farming:  equipment sales and maintenance, chemicals, the elevator and railroad, trucking, quality monitoring, storage.
  5. Livestock in much variation:  organic free-range pigs, pig battery raising (Hutterite), traditional grazing livestock, cow-calf pairs, steer fattening.
  6.   Businesses in support of livestock:  supplies and equipment, custom butcher, veterinarian, sorting and shipping corrals, horse activities like rodeo, brand inspection, predator control, feeds (alfalfa, pelletizing)
  7. Computer technicians and wireless service
  8. Infrastructure managers:  electrical, gas, water, sewage systems plus the associated bookkeeping; streets and alleys.  Trash and recycling.  Nothing to do with internet or telephone.
  9. Interface with Hutterite colonies.  (Vegetable raising, chickens, eggs)
  10.   Interface with the reservation.
  11.   Small businesses like Pony Expressions, Medicine River Gallery, Kneads for Knots, hairdressers, the Panther, the motel, the green house, the counseling service
  12.   Crafts and arts people:  painters, jewelry, writers, quilters, wood carvers, leatherworkers.  This is a slower, quieter place where one can work peacefully.  Most people are doing these things as supplements to other income.
  13.   The library
  14.   The Clinic and home support for the ill and aged
  15.   Senior citizen meals
  16.   Several thriving churches, two struggling.  No resident ministers.
  17.   Various kind of law enforcement officers.
  18.   The shooting range.  Are these law enforcement people using it?
  19.   Gravel and excavation
  20.   Highway maintenance
  •   Weather
  •   Distance
  • Rising expectations for housing.  Three times now I’ve known of prospective school superintendents who refused to come to Heart Butte or in Valier because there was NO house they considered suitable.  Twice this was resolved by the school supplying a manufactured home.  This was enmeshed with the conviction that equity in a house was a major source of family wealth.  This may have changed drastically.
  • All infrastructure is aged, which means both the old breaking down and not pushing ahead to the new galloping technology.  We’ve barely disposed of the Big Dishes and cable TV though people have long moved on to the small “pizza pan” receivers or internet streaming.  We have yet to built the first cell tower for cell phones (smart phones have just arrived in Montana anyway) and now there is news about tiny cell gizmos that will replace the towers.
  • Shortage of young volunteers to be EMT’s and fire fighters.
  • No bus or other sort of support for non-drivers in order to access larger towns or even the national railroad, bus and air networks.   The Senior Surrey didn’t get enough business to continue because people rely on family and friends informally.  No one has begun a private chauffeur service, probably because of insurance.
  • No laundromat.  Some prob -- most people have washing machines.
  •  Xenophobia:  I’m being nice and not saying “racism.”  The other side of it is unjustified esteem for outsiders who purport to be expert, rich, etc.  High school cues, people.
  •  Locals are saying they love the schools and feel they are excellent.  I have doubts.  I see the loss of many long-time stable teachers. 
  •   No one is addressing the prevention of cancer and diabetes in this community.
  •   Thinking of jobs in terms of a payroll instead of a small entrepreneurial business, possibly online.
  •   Balky distributors:  Curry’s has to struggle to make them keep delivering bread and produce because we don’t buy enough to make it “worth their while.”  Yet we are prevented by state health rules from running our own bakery or even a canning business or fancy cakes.
  •   Personal jealousies and feuds.  Oh, boy.
  1. The idea that one can live in a rural place with every amenity available in a major city.  (There is no major city in Montana anyway.  Calgary is the closest, but the border is a hindrance now.)
  2.   Passivity: the idea that things should be managed and supplied by someone else.
  3.   Lack of savvy about how things work, who should do what, self-reliance.
  4.   Out-sourcing to “consultants”  (Sorry, guys.)  The greatest value in such studies as this growth plan is realizations on the part of the investigators.
  5.   Ancestor worship.
  6.   Lack of awareness of planetary issues, particularly the impact of China; the changing weather; planetary pollution; natural resource exhaustion.
  7.   Assumptions about the abilities of local residents.  There’s more talent here than the various committees seem to realize.
  8.   Over-obedience to laws.  (Surprised?  It’s what Jesus called “jot and tittle” morality instead of looking at the spirit.)
  1. What is the carrying capacity of the present grain industry?
  2.   Likewise, how many livestock ranchers can this area support?
  3.   What sort of value-adding or supporting businesses could be added?  I suspect most will be related to distribution, pulling back from the major corporate systems like Cargill or whatever meat buyers are here.  Do we know who they are?  How many people are working on contract and how many have developed specialty markets?
  4.   What has been the impact of the military for good or bad  in a time of constant foreign “interventions?”  How many youngsters join?  Is their training helpful after they leave?
  5.   How many houses are currently for sale?  Has anyone inquired into what the no doubt assorted reasons might be?
  6.   There was some interest in the recent meeting about how good the match is between CRP (being paid not to grow a crop) and the productivity of the land (CRP was supposed to apply to land too sandy, alkaline, or whatever).
  7.  What would oil or coal development mean to Valier? 
There’s a peculiar local (peculiar but not uncommon) dynamic in which people who already have lived here a while think they know everything but, more than that, really resent outsiders knowing things.  (I remember the silence in the room when someone sneered,  “What kind of words are “Ponoka” and “Ptau” anyway?  Why don’t we just rename those streets?”   I said,  “They’re Blackfeet words.  Ponoka means elk.  Ptau -- usually spelled Peta -- means eagle.  Historic stuff.”  A strange mix of embarrassment, resentment, and realization.  (Same thing in Heart Butte when a white teacher there demanded to know what the heck a “Calf Boss Rib” was.  It’s the name of a prominent family.  It’s also the most desirable meat possible: taken from the ribs that have a sticking-up knob that forms the hump on the shoulders of the animal.)
Alongside that, there is a kind of crushing, deeply denied pressure to make this town work because of fears survival would not be possible elsewhere.  (Saying this will anger some.  It’s also true on the rez.)  The result of both emotions (they are NOT rational) is paralysis, the inability to think, to generate options, to use outsider expertise without being dependent on it.  
I do not think that building nice houses in the expectation that if one does that, nice occupants will come, is effective.   This opinion is a starting point for discussion and action, NOT reason to shut down.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


A while back I was talking to an older businesswoman with many lawyer friends who is pretty hip about Montana.  I was telling her about our gravel dilemma.  Briefly, one of the people on the town council is the local gravel and excavation man.  The town needed gravel for some road work.  Because of a state-level rule, they could not buy it from the man on the council because that would be a conflict of interest.  So the mayor, who is a bureaucrat from Seattle, solicited bids quietly from other gravel companies, chose one and bought on her own initiative.  It was tens of thousands of dollars but under the $50,000 limit on what can be bought that way.  This was fine until the bill came to the council to be approved.  BLAMMO!!
My female friend scoffed,  “What fools!  In a 300 person town like Valier, they should have pressured the council member for a nice discount, quietly bought the gravel from him, and kept everyone happy!”  (Previously, this had been the sort of practice that some called corrupt and others called practical.)  I was a little jolted by her candor, though I’d had the same feeling that there was a troublesome discrepancy between rules made for the larger cities in Montana (none of which are over 100,000) and the reality of what works in a small community where unfair advantages are policed by peer pressure.
So last night I went to a community meeting (cold and snowy here -- maybe half a dozen in attendance) run by a very nice urban-minded lady (her male partner was eliminated by knee surgery) with a lot of big maps, much more sophisticated than the newsprint and fiber tip maps made by our village gadfly but containing roughly the same information.  Her Power Point screen refused to work, so we clustered around her laptop.  The chair of the county commissioners, Sandra J. Broesder,  WAS in attendance which earned her major points in my estimation.  (She’s also a fan of “My Friend Flicka.”  It doesn’t get better.  Or maybe it does.  She grew up in Calgary, the cowboy Paris of the prairie.)  

There are no email addresses for any county offices or individuals.  The county seat is a long-distance phone call, though the reservation is not.  There was no reporter present.  The newspaper is owned by a family thirty miles away and not particularly interested in our town.
We are obliged by the state to create a “growth plan” before we can zone.  There is an appetite for zoning here, mostly based on the need to “look respectable” and easily perverted into spot zoning -- trying to force one’s neighbor to conform to one’s own standards.  (No horses, no chickens.  Anything rural seems downscale.)   Early in the history of the community it was a major business node with multi-story hotels and a military airport and then devolved into a small, quiet town memorialized in Ivan Doig’s memoir, “This House of Sky.”   (Nothing is made of this.) Recent signs of progress have been tearing down old buildings, rather than creating new ones.
Growth seemed to be defined as building new homes, though no one was very clear about where the jobs were to enable people to pay for them.  Two major sources of new people are retirement houses for local ranchers and commuter housing for law enforcement.  Someone asserted that our proportion of officers to population is higher than the US as a whole:  highway patrol, deputy sheriffs (the sheriff lives here), border patrol, homeland security, immigration, prison personnel.  (A major private prison is in Shelby -- few people want to live in Shelby because it has leapt at EVERY opportunity to bring jobs, no matter what impact on the community.)  Both groups like the idea of a quiet place with fishing and hunting nearby.
Weirdly, discussion revolved around getting rid of our railroad spur (it serves the grain elevator) and the airport (someone wants to develop it for “luxury view houses” overlooking -- pun intended -- the idea that high-income people might want to fly in and that the foreground of their view would be the trailer camp that serves the fishermen on the lake, which is really an impoundment reservoir.)  Several things were entirely ignored:  businesses that could operate via the Internet, like perhaps an ePublisher; and the awkward fact that our infrastructure is overwhelmed.  The sewage lagoon (new ten years ago) earns us nasty letters, the water system constantly breaks (a major pond at our single traffic signal was just fixed), the electricity can be off for hours at a time.  (It’s worse when it’s only a “brown-out” which destroys motors.)  No one mentioned the number of houses for sale.  Talk about new “developments” ignored the fact that previous attempts at developments left the status of the property involved in a costly legal and surveying mess, sort of semi-dormant.  The vicissitudes of inheritance have left other properties locked up.
Many of the things that affect growth in this town are simply way beyond our control.  Imagine a winter worse than this one -- colder temps, less snow -- that kills seeds in the ground, imagine something going wrong with the “Roundup Ready” GMO seeds so one year they fail to germinate, imagine oil so high-priced that ag chemicals and gas for the massive tractors were impossible to get.   It was CRP that devastated business in Valier -- land not being actively farmed meant the farmers could move to Florida.  We are global now:  weather and politics everywhere on the planet affect us, or we wouldn’t have had such great profits this year.  Some are predicting that when the megacities go broke (it’s a real possibility), their people will scatter out to the small towns, full of need and violence.
No one dared say, “Tribal.”  Yet Valier is right on the reservation boundary and more enrolled people move to town all the time.
Moving away from crushing pessimism, I offered this idea: craftsmen/artisans/artists.  This is a quiet shift already happening.  Jack Smith’s Medicine River Gallery is an active seller online, kitty-corner is a custom embroidery shop, down the street is myself pounding the keyboard, at the western edge is a new small foundry capable of casting jewelry and other small items, towards the south is a Blackfeet former schoolteacher who makes traditional bead jewelry and also a woman who paints at the level of juried exhibitions.  I’m told there’s someone in town who proofs textbooks, but I don’t know who that is.   
This is a sort of person who comes quietly with small resources, but often over time is capable of making improvements in property.  What would encourage them?  I’ll think about it for a while before I write something to send this bureaucratic inquiry that overlooks the obvious.   What’s the use of outside consultants if they don’t crack open the dilemmas by introducing new possibilities?  On the other hand, how can they be expected to understand the situation when people refuse to acknowledge the basic facts, evidently out of wanting to look good to the consultant?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Where did my friend, Flicka, go?  I mean, “My Friend Flicka,” the classic horse story.  I can’t even find my copy of the biography of Mary O’Hara, who wrote that beloved book that became a series (“Thunderhead,” and “Green Grass of Wyoming”), a movie and a television series.  If you look through the lists of “best books of the West” and “Western authors,” you won’t find her.  Is it because she’s female or because her book is labeled juvenile?
I’m not much for the kind of feminism that pushes the primacy of all women in all circumstances.  Nor am I one to sneer at young adult books (although lately there seems to be an unseemly rush to monetize the category).  But this Wyoming tale of the archetypal family (tough competent dad; educated compassionate mother; sibs alternating between support and competition) centered on a beloved animal -- I DEARLY loved that book and was formed by it.  Sure, maybe in literary terms Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony” or even Stegner’s “Carrion Colt” were more intense and skillful.  But Mary O’Hara must be accounted for.
Born in 1895, she got her start as a screenwriter in the silent film era.  (One of her credits was a 1925 version of “Braveheart.”)  After an early troubled marriage, she eventually married again to Helge Sture-Vasa, a Swede who had worked horses for the US. Army and clearly was the model for the militaristic “Rob” in “My Friend Flicka.”  They bought an historic ranch between Laramie and Cheyenne where they raised sheep until the Great Depression, and then horses, followed by a summer camp for privileged boys from back East.  Out West, you do what you have to -- so back to the typewriter during WWII.  By 1946 when the third book of the Wyoming series was published, they were able to sell the Wyoming ranch and buy a ranch in California.  
Somehow that ended the marriage and Mary went back East to Connecticut where she went on writing.  She died at age 95 in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  By that time she had shown talent in composing and producing a musical called “The Catch Colt,” which is not to be confused with the novel with that name by Sid Larson, a cousin of James Welch, Jr.    Mary’s father, the Reverend Dr. Reese Fell Alsop, was an Episcopal clergyman but I didn’t see any reference to Alsops in Montana.  However, her sister, Gulielma Fell was also a writer:  “My Chinese Days.”   Another Reese Fell Alsop wrote “George and his Horse Go West” which is a kid book, but I know nothing else about him.  He may be the same as the doctor of internal medicine who died in 2006, aged 93, and who acted besides writing books.  In that case, he may be related to Mary.  What a family!
I don’t remember the three “Flicka” books with much detail, but what struck me even as a child was a sort of aura of intellectual knowingness and rectitude imposed on a landscape and economic situation of considerable hardship.  It was about achievement in the face of adversity, pride of attitude.  It was a sort of family version of “Out of Africa.”  Kenya-syndrome where educated aristocrats tried to tame the raw planet.  (For Dinesen the indigenous people became family, but in O’Hara’s books there are no Indians.)  Colonialism is such an object of hate and resentment now.  Probably the whole dynamic needs to be revisited a little more calmly, but also there could profitably be an investigation of the New England elite colonializing the Rocky Mountain West, with a personal sense of the dramatic that pulled them towards Hollywood and publishing.
Certainly this ethic is in my deep consciousness, even though my real roots are modestly educated homesteaders and orchardists.  Mary O’Hara and I share an arrogance that carries us over rough patches.  Very useful.  But also often ridiculous.
Other things I absorbed include the compulsion to save the beloved, like Ken (Mary’s son was called that) lying in the creek all night, holding Flicka’s head out of water.  She made such a thing seem admirable when, in fact, it is deeply unreasonable.  Her handling of sex was, well, equine.  Thunderhead is a stallion, valued for being that, and in one memorable episode Ken unreasonably manages to stick on the back of Thunderhead while he rounds up his harem of mares.  If you’ve ever witnessed this process, it’s a matter of kicking, biting, head down at the ground, necking and then mounting of the mares.  Dramatic dragon sex.  But it gets past the censors.
One wonders whether there would be a reward to writing a new novel that gathers up these same elements but treats them in more than a pop best seller mode.  It might take a new Stegner, but a female one who is not so protective of the “lady” as Stegner tended to be.  Katharine Hepburn crossed with Barbara Stanwyck.  Oh, it’s so much fun to play such games.   The male West Lit people seem to indulge in it a bit, after a few drinks in all-male company, but the females are solemn and upright in the missionary position.  Once in a while Hollywood escapes that template but then they always go to whores.  They love whores.  The female ones.  The male ones are . . .  nevermind.  
Identity vs. culture vs. environment are classic -- oh, PRIMAL -- elements of story as they interact against or with each other.  They guide us in our ordinary lives.  Nassim Taleb argues that too many people don’t have enough hardship and sudden crisis in their lives, and therefore are bushwhacked when things go bad and tend to whine instead of doing something -- anything.  Like considering safeguards.  That’s pretty cruel but there’s some truth to it.  
Somewhere else I explain how my acting class used to play, “What’s Your Price?” in order to steel themselves for life in the theatre.  My price has been, “would you give up the east slope of the Rockies in northern Montana?”  Luckily, though I’ve paid that price (which was very much connected to O’Hara’s novelized fight to stay on her ranch in Wyoming) it has turned out to redeemable.  I returned.  I write.  I’m still somehow connected to the novel version of Mary O’Hara, walking around with her cat on her shoulder.  Remember “Paulie?”  Wasn't that the cat's name?

Where's that damn book?

Monday, February 21, 2011


It was graduation day at Northwestern University in 1961.  I’m not entirely sure who took the photo since there was a row of relatives in front of both me and Stu Hagmann, all snapping away, but Stu is the one who just now sent me the photo for a Valentine.  He went on to become a bigshot Hollywood director, as intended, and married his high school sweetheart, as expected.  NOTHING in my life was expected.
It just occurred to me that I don’t have this diploma on my office wall -- only the U of Chicago MA (1980) and my Master of Divinity (1984)  from Meadville/Lombard.  I worked hard to earn that first Masters.  I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say they gave me the M/L one just to get me off the rolls.  By the 1980’s I was quite a different person that I was in 1961 and I’m different again now.  Yet I’m not.
On the day this photo was taken, I was in a stunned state, having no idea what would happen next.  I’d gone to the placement office and told the woman there I wanted a teaching job west of the Mississippi but not in California.  She stared at me open-mouthed, then said,  “But there’s nothing out there!”
The night of this day in the photo, I cried as hard as I’ve ever cried -- broken-hearted that this world was ending and my little community there was dispersing.  I thought my life was over.  Five days later my parents and I pulled into the parking lot of the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Montana, and I got a job teaching there.  THAT turned out to be my heart-place.  
Let that be a lesson to you.  Never give up.  You don’t have any idea what might be just around the corner of the labyrinth.  Sure, it might be a minotaur.  But maybe not.  Maybe something you never dreamt of and that other people don’t believe exists.  For instance, in my case, while I was sitting here wondering why “Bronze Inside and Out” wasn’t my key to the world, wondering what to do since I was a writer and the publishing industry had just collapsed, along came Tim Barrus.  
At first we just visited.  Then there was more, all electronic.  We could not have been more different, and yet . . .  It turned out I was born to blog.  And Tim -- oh, he vlogs (blogs with vids) amazing videos with print accompanying.  We’re synergistic.   We co-write.  And I’m back on the rez.
This is a blurb from a vlog called “Orpheus in the Catacombs,” meant to keep the manuscript of that name alive in the minds of ourselves and others:
“Orpheus in the Catacombs” is an evolving reality that we recorded in blogs, vlogs and emails during early 2007 to the end of 2010, a period of nearly four years, one long trajectory of developments.  Through this period the group went from being Storyboard to Cinematheque to Cinematheque Films and now The Studio.  Like American Indians, when the group feels different, they take a new name.  Although this time there was some sentiment for going nameless, if only to escape Google.  The individuals are constantly disguised to protect them.  The archives for Orpheus are real-time writing about real events, slightly edited, organized by place as much as time.  You’d need a warrant to get to those archives, but Tim says that one person to whom he gave access was stumped to discover there’s very little in it about sex or, indeed, about drugs.  This is an arts-based context.
The last chapter of “Orpheus” was so powerful that I removed it from the manuscript to become a stand-alone.  Now it is a poetic novella, a kind of counter-”Death in Venice” in which it is Tadzio (Tristan), craving love and hoping to access it through sex, which is his only experience, who clings to Tim in mortal dementia.  It’s called “Fingerprints on the Iris of the Eyes.” 
And still there is a lot more material, only partly contained in a long row of two-inch three-ring binders and growing daily, which I’m organizing into a dialogue called “The Whore and the Hermit.”  Tim has been quite frank about the years of his youth when he made his living as a whore, a kind of call-boy, who with a friend ran a “playroom” in an old warehouse where they installed equipment to do something I would call “transgressive Gestalt experiences.”  S and M to you, bud.  Men paid for it.  It was intense enough to be transformative, in some cases counter-traumatic, over-writing violence in the past.
The “hermit” part of the title is me in my tumble-down house in a Montana village, where my rosary/worry beads/devotional practice is a computer keyboard.  I’m a monogamist, now a celibate.  Drugs for me are aspirin, coffee, and metformin.  No more chocolate.  My job is to witness, second-hand though it may be, and keep the records.  This is a report to you.  I don’t give a rip whether you believe it or not.  I have no idea what will happen next.  I’m thinking about audible books but I need rural broadband internet to make it practical.  
According to the media, the general public is still obsessing about money and sex, parts of the globe are worrying about national revolution, and scientists are worrying about the planet itself: earthquakes, global weather change, loss of satellites.  The sky is falling, the sky is falling!
But it isn’t, of course.  Just the world as we know it and most of us never know much more than our small corner.  In fact, we actively resist knowing about troubling and “wicked” stuff unless it’s “other,” as though bad stuff couldn’t touch us if it remained unknown.  Evolution is better than revolution.  One person’s advance is another person’s spanner in the works.  Add your own platitudes.
A change from DVDs-by-mail to streaming will ruin my current lifestyle, but it’s not the gadgets that change us.  It’s human systems that change, enabled by new connections.  “Streaming” will be better if Congress supports rural broadband, but only until China shoots down our relay satellites or until the electrical grid fails.  (My backup is shelves of books.)  What counts is being right here and now in the moment, because that’s what carries us to the next thing.  Shutting down the internet only shuts down the gadgets -- not the passionate, linked determination of the people to find each other.  Which is why I tell you all this stuff.
Somewhere out there are a cure for AIDS, a new source of power (hydrogen?), a system for the equitable and accessible management of water, and a way of controlling population other than killing people.  Just around the corner.  Keep going, keep going, give me your hand.  Sod the diplomas.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


When I ordered “The Power of Art” -- which is a series of lectures on famous artists as presented by the BBC -- I had no idea who Simon Schama was.  He turns out to be a professor of art, history and politics who works both sides of the Atlantic and is almost the definition of “irrepressible.”  His language is so eloquently elegant, sensuous and inventive that it’s almost lascivious.  Tim has seen him in person and says his hands fly everywhere like wings.  Clearly his tongue also has wings.  A parody on YouTube goes for his bobble head.  He’s a high-concept, wry, mischievous fellow, six years younger than me, and what Montana folks would call a “character.”
The middle of the three disc series came first -- what did I think, that it wouldn’t have to come from out-of-state?  I’m just grateful to get these DVD’s.  But I had thought they would be about, you know, color and composition with maybe a little sociological context about the times.  But in the mouth of Schama, each artist (here, it was David and the French Revolution, Turner and the English awakening of conscience, and Van Gogh searching for God in creation) was practically a re-enactment of the Passion of Christ.  (In fact, that exact image snuck in here and there.)  Schama believes in the artist as daemon, inspired monster, outside any social restraints, and illustrates in some cases by providing previously forbidden images.
I suppose now it seems safe to show us Marat dead in his bath, sainted at last;  or Turner’s slave ship drowning its human cargo so they will be insured, forever damning the ship captain; much less Van Gogh stuffing a whole tube of Chrome Yellow oil paint into his mouth.  (I hope it was mustard.)  I can see why few in Montana watch this series, quite apart from not being able to get public television except on cable.  Modern cowboy artists are pleasant businessmen with very nice houses.  Charlie Russell is a grandfatherly gent who only hung around whore houses because he was . . .  well, nevermind.  No one expects artists to, um, “impact” politics.  For one thing, most of the buyers are Republicans, though Democrats like pretty scenery and animals.  There is no political niche for demented artists.  Even Governor Schweitzer’s mild excursions outside sober propriety get called down.  (Repubs are known to drink but never to be too drunk to drive.)
David (Da-VEED) was not above pandering to rich patrons and painted them very well.  According to Schama, the awakening came when he visited Rome and realized that the French sovereign order with all its wretched excess was heading for the same ruined fate.  Huge national debt, personal wealth sequestered from general poverty and privation, frivolous preoccupation with glamour and sex -- am I scaring you yet?  Or were you already pretty worried?  Maybe looking for someone to blame.  Thousands were guillotined -- the best, the brightest, and in some cases the bravest.  Hopefully we won’t do that this time, though unfunding education is probably as effective.
Van Gogh, Dutch son of a clergyman that he was, suffered from actual physiological damage expressed in epileptic fits.  Sensitive to the suffering of the poor, he had thought at first he would convert them and God would come to their aid.  By the end he was simply opening his undefended heart to the land itself, the sunflowers and the wheat fields where the crows flew up.  It proved unendurable, though his ecstatic work endures.
Turner never had a lot of use for humans anyway.  His woman and children were sequestered away from his home/studio.  People were puppets in the grip of a mighty sea of fantastic forces, gorgeously tinted and smeared with vapors.  He recognized the horror but it was always in a context of mighty waves and typhoons of a grandeur that miniaturized humans.
Possibly there are contemporary Montana artists who are painting in this highly charged way, but I can’t think of them at the moment.  Or maybe the media just ignores them as too disturbing, too ugly, raising too many questions about what a human being is on a land so vast, so deadly, so cold and so hot, so little sheltered from winds so powerful, so ranged with mountains with spiritual impact far beyond anything offered in a cathedral and badlands that suggest portraits of hell.
If you talk this way to a Montana person younger than fifty, they’ll think solemnly for a few minutes, then say,  “I have a painting by so-and-so.  How much do you think it might be worth?”   If you talk this way to a Montana person older than eighty, they won’t say anything but their eyes will fill with tears.  If you talk this way to a full-blood Indian (if you can find one), they will simply and quietly rise and leave.
Tim says that most people who listen to Schama have no idea what he’s talking about.  Wikipedia (we don’t approve of Wikipedia) says, prissily, “Schama has a literary way of writing that is attractive to both historians and a wider readership. It is ‘packed with evocative detail: rich fruit cakes crammed with raisins, currants, nuts and glacĂ© cherries all mulled in brandy sauce’.  He has also received criticism from one critic for dumbing down history, presenting a ‘grossly oversimplified and mythologising view of the history of nations’ and not fostering critical thinking.”  This is a predictable sentiment from the snarky little overeducated white male twits who control Wikipedia.  They just cannot tolerate excess and passion.  They have neither the nimble vocabulary nor the sympathy with the masses that Schama demonstrates.
You know, when Ace Powell was still alive, we had conversations about such things.  That’s before he was captured, dried out and commodified.  He would have understood Simon Schama and his long sweeps of idea and theory, even from Ace’s John Birch point of view, which in Ace’s interpretation was a people’s movement.
Now I’m on the hunt for a copy of “Landscape and Memory,” either the book or the DVD.  On the face of it, these two words ought to be highly relevant to an understanding of Montana -- oh, why accept state boundaries?  Have a little scale!  Let’s say an understanding of the high continental eastslope prairie, at least as much as a human can manage.