January 22, 2014

"Stay with the West" — new paintings by “Shorty” Shope

by Kendra Newhall, Assistant Registar, Montana's Museum

The Society recently acquired several works by well-known artist Henry Irvin "Shorty" Shope. Born in 1900, Shope’s paintings reflect the childhood he spent on a Muskrat Creek ranch (near Boulder, Montana) and later, four years as a working cowboy near Miles City. Heavily influenced by E. S. Paxson (1852-1919) and C. M. Russell (1864-1926), Shorty knew from an early age that he would become an artist.

"Cowboy" (oil on board, 1966), one of six new Shope acquisitions
by Montana's Museum, Montana Historical Society, 2013.82.04.
"I studied art every minute I could get, either at the high school or out at the university. The rest of the time, when I could, I was at Paxson’s studio." (New Interpretations, by Dale A. Burk, Western Life Publications, 1969, p.63) 

Shope was versatile, becoming skilled in cartography, commercial art, calligraphy, and cartooning. Although his work was carried by galleries in New York, Chicago and St. Louis, he remained true to his Montana roots.

Charlie Russell once told him: “Stay with the West, boy. The men, the horses and the country you like and want to study are here.” (Great Falls Tribune, November 30, 1958)

Montana's Museum owns 37 Shope works, and the Research Center owns another 13 items—books, maps, and promotional material for the highway department and several Montana businesses.

A versatile artist, Shope designed this cover for a 1937 Montana Highway
Department brochure.
Montana Historical Society Research Center, PAM3247.