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 Angus Shortt  (1908 - 2006)

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Lived/Active: Canada      Known for: illustration-bird specialty, wildlife

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Ad Code: 4
Angus Shortt
from Auction House Records.
Mallard ducks landing-illustration
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is an article written March 8, 1985, to be given to the auction winner of one of Angus H. Shortt's paintings at a Ducks Unlimited fund-raising dinner in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Submitted, November 2003, by John P. Schumacher M.D., De Pere, Wisconsin.


He was born in Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, September 25,1908.

He and his family came to Canada in 1910, settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

His mother was a skilled artist, specializing in flower studies in both watercolors and oils, and was also a gifted china painter, and she encouraged his interest in drawing and painting. His great grandfather, James Angus, from whom he takes his name, was a Scotsman and a designer with one of the Belfast linen manufacturers, specializing in decorative tablecloths, etc.

In 1917 the family moved from downtown Winnipeg to Deer Lodge, St. James, on the western outskirts of the city. The new home was situated in an area of unspoiled woodland and prairie, affording an excellent opportunity for studying natural history. Drawings of birds took precedence, and his teacher in grade 5 pinned a first effort, the various Manitoba woodpeckers done in watercolor on a sheet of cartridge paper, up on the classroom wall. Another early study of birds, also a watercolor, was painted on the back of a Hudson's Bay Company calendar. This effort featured 24 different species. Painted in 1922, it is now a treasured memento of those early days. His first duck painting was a pair of mallards, done in 1929.

After Linwood High School, in 1926, he started to serve an apprenticeship as a wood engraver with Brigdens of Winnipeg, at $6.00 per week of 44 hours. With the onset of the Depression in 1931, wood engraving was phased out as a method of catalog illustration and he was laid off. Efforts to find other employment in the commercial art field ware unavailing as jobs were not to be had. However, encouraged by his father, he resumed study and sketching of birds.

The well-known Winnipeg naturalists, B. W. Cartwright and A. G. Lawrence, gave invaluable advice and assistance at this time.

A membership in the Natural History Society of Manitoba laid the foundation of a long and fruitful assocúiation during which he served in various executive capacities in the Ornithological Section, culminating in his election as President of the Society from 1947 to 1949. He gave many talks on birds to the Society, all of which were illustrated with his own hand-painted slides. These were painted in watercolor on illustration board 5ò x 5ò square and projected on the screen through an epidiascope. Money for notebooks and art supplies was obtained by sale of small watercolors of birds and flowers, including Christmas cards.

In 1935, with the formation of the Manitoba Museum, he was appointed Artist-Technician. In this post, he was responsible for bird and mammal exhibits, as well as co-operative work in displays of other branches of natural history, notably the restoration and assembly of the skeleton of the prehistoric plesiosaur, an 18-ft. long aquatic reptile, from Treherne, Manitoba. This latter work was carried out under the direction of Prof. E. I. Leith of the University of Manitoba. Working on a shoestring budget in those days, much ingenuity and imagination was called upon.

Nevertheless, several group displays in large showcases were completed; these included---Grant's Lake, featuring the blue and snow geese; an early settler's cabin; and a miniature (to scale) of the famous Indian Ceremonial grounds in the Whiteshell, following a canoe survey into the area, together with W. H. Rand and B. W. Cartwright.

During the summers of 1937-38 he was loaned to the National Museum of Canada to carry out ornithological surveys under the late P. A. Taverner, in western Manitoba from The Pas south to Riding Mountains.

From 1937 to 38 he illustrated a series of articles on Manitoba wildlife, written by B.W. Cartwright and published by the Winnipeg Tribune. For a number of years he wrote the popular bird column, "Wild Wings" for the same newspaper, following the retirement of B.W. Cartwright. In September 1938 he went to New York as taxidermist at the American Museum of Natural History under a special four-month grant.

In March of 1939 he married Betsy Haak who was an active member of the Natural History Society of Manitoba. Their marriage was a happy one from the beginning, as they shared together a deep and lasting love of nature. Betsy has, over the years, become widely known as a competent judge of flowers and flower arrangements, and for 18 years served as one of the top judges at the annual International Flower Show in Winnipeg, as well as at many other points in the province. Both have contributed articles to the "Prairie Garden", official publication of the Manitoba Horticultural Association.

During these years, their friendship with the late Hector Macdonald, who was supervisor of Winnipeg Parks, and an expert on wild flowers of Manitoba as well as being a professional horticulturalist trained in Scotland, led to experimentation with color photography of nature, chiefly of wild flowers. Slides of these flowers were shown to many different organizations throughout the province.

A son, Terrence Adrian, born in 1947, also chose nature as his field, graduating in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Microbiology from the University of Manitoba. He, too, is skilled at drawing, and has an artist's eye for good color and composition.

Work with Ducks Unlimited included preparation of colored maps and graphics for use in the full-length color silent films, which were produced annually. This work was carried through into the area of sound films. Another important facet of his work was in connection with donor projects. Sponsored by individuals, groups and States, this program proved immensely popular and resulted in preparation of photo presentation brochures. Each was designed with a hand-lettered cover on which was painted a pair of ducks, generally in flight and representing a sporting duck common to the area of the sponsors. In effect, each brochure was "One of a Kind" and they were prized by the recipients. Over the 34 years to retirement in October 1973, a total of 270 of these colorful books were completed.

Early in his career he lost the sight in his right eye, which caused a traumatic experience in his life, as the future of his art seemed jeopardized. However, this period was surmounted and he was able to continue with his excellent work.

Waterfowl paintings for Ducks Unlimited found quick acceptance in the United States. Tom Main, then General Manager, gave whole-hearted encouragement and was largely instrumental in establishing his popularity among American duck hunters.

Contacts with U.S. and Canadian sportsmen led to a steady demand for paintings of ducks and geese. Aside from these commissions, he found time to paint and donate pictures to various Ducks Unlimited State Committees to be used in fund-raising programs and dinner auctions, raising thousands of dollars towards the work of Ducks Unlimited. The Directors unanimously approved a proposal that he devote the entire year prior to retirement painting exclusively for Ducks Unlimited.

A series of his Manitoba wildflower and bird paintings was sent on a world tour in connection with a South African Wildlife Conservation program in 1946. That same year he was awarded the bronze medal of the Natural History Society of Manitoba for original researches in ornithology and his work as a bird painter.

In 1947 he was elected member of the American Ornithologists Union. In 1948 he was commissioned by "Sports Afield Magazine" to illustrate a series of articles on the ducks and geese. Written by B. W. Cartwright, then chief Naturalist with Ducks Unlimited, this series was later issued in a deluxe bound edition, now a collectors item. There are four printings of this book. In 1962 he designed a set of 12 silver medallions commemorating Confederation. Floral emblems of the 10 provinces and 2 territories in stylized form were the basis for the designs; the reverse side showed the map of each province with date of entry into Confederation.

In 1963 his design for a 15-cent airmail stamp featuring four Canada Geese in flight was selected and used by the Canada Post office. This stamp was overwhelming rated the best stamp design of the year by the "London Free Press" stamp popularity poll.

A one-man show of his original paintings was held in February 1969, in the new offices of Ducks Unlimited in Fort Garry, Winnipeg. In 1969 he was presented with the Good Citizenship Award Plaque by the Manitoba Tourist and Convention Association. In 1970 he was honored by the Manitoba Historical Society with the Centennial Gold Medal of Remembrance for work in the field of wildlife conservation.
He has exhibited at the American Ornithologists Union meetings at Toronto in 1933, Regina in 1958, and Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1972. He had a special exhibit at the Crafts Guild of Manitoba in 1973.

Since his retirement in 1973, he continues to paint. In 1975 he had a one-man show in Alloway Hall, in the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, resulting in a steady volume of commissions for paintings, ranging from waterfowl, birds of prey, upland game birds to songbirds.

From Oct. 7 to Dec, 14, 1975, his work was part of the exhibit in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, entitled "Animals in Art", which hung paintings by artists from all over the world.

He exhibited paintings at the Loch Wildlife Art Gallery in Winnipeg.

He continues to get commissions from U.S. sportsmen, and during the past few years he has been receiving orders from D.U. Committees in Canada. These orders are for specific species of ducks and geese and are auctioned off at fund-raising dinners and range in size from 16x20 to 22x30 inches, the latter being particularly favored. Amounts realized by D.U. Committees range from $800 to several thousand dollars per painting.

He paints all species of birds and waterfowl and has a backlog of orders for these. He recently painted a series of 30 miniatures---watercolors for a Michigan D. U. member who took them to Japan as gifts for Japanese business men with whom he deals. These were of colorful songbirds native to North America. This past month he completed a similar order for 15 minis for our provincial Finance Minister, who is using them for the same purpose on his visits to Japan and Europe.

In 1942 T. C. Main, then General Manager of D.U. Canada, chose one of his early canvasback paintings for presentation to the retiring D. U. Canada President, W.C. Fisher of Calgary. This set a precedent, and many of the succeeding presidents and directors were recipients of one of his originals, on their retirements.

His canvasback paintings are much admired, and continue to be his favorite duck in popularity with sportsmen, second only to the mallard, followed by the pintail, widgeon, scaup, and black duck. In recent years his Canada goose paintings have become great favorites.

In 1981 he was the recipient of Ducks Unlimited (Canada) 1981-82 Art Award in recognition of his artistic ability and contributions to the preservation of North Americas wildlife heritage.

Angus Shortt died in 2006.

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