When he was still a young artist, Irvin “Shorty” Shope had the extraordinary opportunity to show his work to one of the masters of American Western art, Charles M. Russell. Like Russell, Shope lived in Montana and worked as a cowboy before beginning his artistic career. Unlike Russell, who moved to Montana as a teenager, Shope had grown up there, worked on his family’s ranch, and decided at an early age to combine his love of the West with a career in fine art. He attended Reed College in Oregon and graduated with a degree in fine art from the University of Montana.
In 1925, Shope, who was then twenty-five years old, visited Russell and cautiously showed him a portfolio of his drawings. Russell was impressed, and wrote on the back of one of the drawings, “These drawings of Shope’s are all good.” He signed the inscription with his trademark buffalo skull. That simple sentence became one of Shope’s most treasured possessions. Russell also offered some words of advice. He asked Shope if he were intending to head east to further his artistic education. When Shope said that he was, Russell said, “Don’t do it. The men, horses, and country you love and want to study are out here, not back there.”
Shope did study in the East for a while; bur remained a resident of Montana until his death in 1977. Throughout his career, Shope received encouragement and instruction from some of the West’s greatest artists, such as E. S. Paxson, Will James, and Harvey Dunn, who was both his teacher and mentor.
Like all of these artists, Shope took whatever artistic work was available to him; illustrating books and calendars, drawing maps of Western exploration for school classrooms, while continuing to paint the men and women of the historic West. Shope was a charter member of the Cowboy Artists of America. He died in 1977 at age seventy-seven as one of the last Western artists able to trace his artistic lineage directly to one of the two men who inspired the formation of the CAA, Charlie Russell.
Collections: Favell Museum of Western Art and Indian Artifacts, Leanin’ Tree of Western Art, National Center for American Western Art, Sangre de Cristo Arts Center
CAA Member from 1966-1977
Born: May 11, 1900
Education: Reed College, University of Montana