|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following, submitted February 2005, is from Mary Scriver of Valier, Montana. |
She is the widow of Bob Scriver, western sculptor and sponsor of the Scriver Award at the C.M. Russell Auctions.
February 7, 2005, in Great Falls, Montana, $21 million in compensatory
damages was awarded to Steve Seltzer, artist. The defendants were Steve
Morton, Dennis Gladwell, and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, a prominent
800 member California law firm.
Seltzer's grandfather, O.C.
Seltzer, and Charles M. Russell were contemporaries who liked to paint
together, often addressing the same subjects. Some thought their work
was enough alike for each to be mistaken for the other guy. When the
boom in "cowboy art" came, there was motivation for people to try to
find Russells and what they HOPED were Russells in estate sales and
second-hand stores all over Montana.
Experts like the late
Fred Renner or the late Harold McCracken were always being asked to
authenticate paintings that were either Russell or Seltzer. Russell
prices are about ten times those of Seltzer. Authentication is usually
provided two ways. One is a painting's "provenance:" when it was
painted, to whom it was sold, and every step of ownership since. The
other is analysis of the actual painting: the palette (colors used),
brush strokes (like handwriting), treatment of elements, etc.
watercolor painting called Lassoing a Longhorn was created, according
to the date on the painting, in 1913. The signature now is C.M.
Russell. The "provenance" doesn't begin until the Amon Carter Museum
bought the painting in 1939. The museum de-accessioned it (i.e. sold it
for some reason) to or through Kennedy Galleries about 1972, who sold
it to Frank and Steve Morton, wealthy brothers who enjoyed collecting
Western art. At some point, the paper had lost four inches off the
bottom. Several years ago, the Morton brothers decided to cash in their
investment and sent the painting to the owners of the Coeur d'Alene
Galleries, who organize a major annual auction.
Looking at the
art rather than the provenance, the gallery owner, Drummond, had a
partner, Stewart Johnson, who suspected the painting was not a Russell.
At their request, Steve Morton took the painting to Ginger Renner, Fred
Renner's widow and one of the current major experts. She told Morton it
was a Seltzer, even though earlier Fred Renner had printed it in a book
of "Russell" work. Later Renner had seen his error and removed it from
subsequent issues of the book.
The auction house suggested
that the Mortons also contact Steve Seltzer, grandson of Olaf. Steve is
a serious scholar of his grandfather's work and an excellent
prize-winning painter in his own right. His archive of reference
materials showed the painting and other similar ones as Seltzers. In
addition, he could cite crucial differences in painting technique.
Coeur d'Alene declined to sell the painting.
Instead of taking
their losses as speculators, Morton and a lawyer named Gladwell, who
belonged to a massive California firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher,
decided to pressure Steve Seltzer to force him to identify the painting
as a Russell. They sued him for the difference in price between a
Russell and a Seltzer plus punitive damages. But nine other experts
attested to the painting being clearly a Seltzer, regardless of
the signature and provenance, which had a twenty year gap when no one
knew who had it. One told me, "I would be able to tell from looking at
one square inch that it was a Seltzer."
The Mortons did find a
paper conservator who said she could see no evidence that the signature
had been changed, but watercolor, if dampened, is easily lifted off
paper. Then there were those missing inches, suggesting a little
strategic altering that couldn't be traced. The luckless investors
threatened the Kennedy Galleries with a lawsuit unless they replaced
the "faux Russell" with a real one -- thus admitting they knew they had
no suit against Seltzer. The Kennedy Galleries stonewalled this
Morton and Gladwell gave up and withdrew
their suit against Steve Seltzer "with prejudice," meaning that it
never be brought again. But Seltzer now brought
charges were malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Steve Seltzer,
middle-aged, tall and serious, had been devastated by the Morton's
lawsuit, which accused him of incompetence and dishonesty.
obsessed with the possibility of his home, studio, savings --
everything -- being wiped out, but most of all it was the destruction
of his reputation that tormented him. He read research books; he
letters; he got up at night to make lists; he couldn't work, and his
guts went crazy. His wife finally forced him to go to the doctor
where luckily a colonoscopy showed no damage. But he still
couldn't eat and lost weight.
employed Zander Blewett, one of the most respected lawyers in the
state, to file the countersuit. Morton and Gladwell hired a Missoula
lawyer, Gary Graham, to defend them. It was soon clear that Morton and
Gladwell were not just malicious -- intending harm unless they got
their way -- but that they were utterly uncaring about the
consequences. They cared nothing about Seltzer -- didn't know him, had
never met him. Morton testified that he was not an art expert, didn't
know what the technical term "palette" meant, only bought the painting
because he liked it. (His brother has suffered a stroke and wished not
to participate in the lawsuit.)
The jury awarded Steve Seltzer
a total of $21,350,000 in damages and court costs. $100,000 from
Morton, $150,000 from Gladwell, and $20,000,000 from Gibson Dunn &
Crutcher. A judge will review these amounts. The defendants may appeal.
What mattered to Steve Seltzer was that his integrity and courage were
recognized. What matters to the art world is that he stood his ground
and spoke to the integrity of the art expert.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Painter Steve Seltzer grew up with the influence of his grandfather's,
O.C. Seltzer's, western artwork, and has always held an interest in
art. This influence is apparent even in Steve Seltzer's earliest pieces, which
often feature western subject matter. It was not until the mid-70's,
after graduating from Montana State University and working in the
architectural and real estate fields, that he decided to concentrate
on his passion for painting. |
With this decision to become a
full time painter, Seltzer and his wife moved to Southern California
where he shared his enthusiasm and his studio with brother-in-law and
fellow artist Dan McCaw. In California, he studied with well-known
Russian artist Sergei Bongart whose impressionistic influences as
well as McCaw's and fellow artist Don Putman, inspired him to
experiment with subjects outside the Western theme, such as reflected
light on the sea and sand.
However, Seltzer is quick to explain: "Subject
matter comes second to the atmosphere, the feeling, the flavor I want
to suggest." It is this belief that allows him to continue painting
with such variety. Whether the subject is Western or impressionistic,
his goal is to suggest rather than describe, to allow the audience to
create their own interpretations.
In 1996, Steve Seltzer won the
Juror's Award and the Artist's Award for the best painting and group of
paintings at the Northwest Rendevous show in Park City, Utah. The
following year, he won the Peoples Choice Award at the Chapparal
Gallery's annual summer show. He is one of only two artists to be
accepted into all 35 C.M. Russell Auctions, and he won the Auction's 1998
Scriver award, the 2000 Artist's Choice award, and the 2003 Best of
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