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Irvin “Shorty” Shope (1900-1977)
August 30, 2023 2 min read
Irvin “Shorty” Shope was born in Boulder, Montana in 1900 and died in Helena, Montana on November 22, 1977. He was a traditional western painter, illustrator, and muralist. Shope was a member of the Cowboy Artists of America from 1965. “Shorty” was raised on his family’s Circle Arrow Ranch, suffering polio at the age of nine. He moved to Missoula at the age of thirteen, after his father died. While being educated in the high school, he came under the influence of the painter, Edgar S. Paxson. At the age of nineteen, he went to work as a Montana cowboy, riding the range intermittently until he was thirty. In 1924, he had taken a correspondence course in art, but Charles Russell recommended that he stay out West rather than study in New York City. In 1925, he exhibited locally and received some commercial assignments. In 1928, Will James got him an illustrating commission.
During the 1920’s, Elling William Gollings was also introduced to the young artist, Shorty Shope.
He sold his first major oil for $350.00 in 1930. After returning to college in 1931, he earned his degree in 1933, majoring in art and history. He moved to Helena in 1935, as a commercial artist for the state. In 1938, he spent three months in New York City as the pupil of Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central School of Art. Shope began easel painting on a half time basis as early as the 1920’s at night while he held full time jobs with the Montana Highway Department and later with the Montana Power Company, and in In 1946, Paxson’s widow gave him her husband’s easel. His Blackfoot Indian paintings led to his given name, Moquea Stumik or Man-About-Size-of-Wolf-with-Heart-Big-as-Buffalo-Bull. While his work has interpreted history, as Shope said, “The West is still the West, in spots, and I like it.”