Angus Shortt fonds
Call Number: Mss 185, Pc 207 (A.04-07, A.04-36, A.04-115, A.06-23, A.06-37, A.08-136)

Title: Angus Shortt fonds.

Dates: 1908-2005.

Extent: 2.4 m of textual records and other material.

Biographical sketch: Angus Shortt was well-known Winnipeg artist and painter of wildlife art.  He was born on September 25, 1908 in Belfast, Ireland. His family moved to Winnipeg in 1911 to avoid Protestant and Catholic tensions. Shortt’s father found work as a conductor on the Winnipeg City Street Railway and his mother worked at Eaton’s art department. Due to his mother’s influence as an artist, he developed a love for sketching birds around the Silver Heights farm located near the family home.  In 1926, determined to find employment as an artist, Shortt sought a position at Brigden’s, a commercial art firm. Despite his desire to become an illustrator, Brigden’s offered him an apprenticeship as a wood engraver, which he accepted. As part of the apprenticeship, Shortt was sent to the Winnipeg School of Art, where he studied under L. LeMoine Fitzgerald. However, Fitzgerald’s style was considered too modernist to be applied in commercial art and engraving, so Shortt would have to apply this teaching to his later portraits of birds and nature. In 1928, around the time of his enrollment in the Winnipeg School of Art, Shortt and his brother, Terry, were encouraged to submit their portraits to Percy A. Taverner of the National Museum of Canada by their neighbor, Bert Cartwright. Taverner responded positively to the art, stating in a letter, “I can see a brilliant future either of these boys as bird artists…”  Later in 1931, Terry would get a job at the Royal Ontario Museum as an illustrator and eventually become the chief of art and exhibits, but Angus would struggle throughout the 1930s to gain employment as an artist.

In 1931, at the end of his five-year apprenticeship with Brigden's, Shortt was laid off due to recession conditions. Encouraged by his father, he pursued his interest in wildlife study and art. In 1932, Shortt obtained a federal collecting permit so that he could hunt and taxidermy birds for money in order to study plumage and anatomy. During that year, he conducted a study of the Clay-coloured Sparrow, which he presented to The Natural History Society of Manitoba in 1933. The presentation was met with such approval that the members asked Shortt to conduct another study of hawks in Manitoba. At this lecture he met Elizabeth (Betsy) Haak, who he would later marry in 1939.  Betsy Shortt was long-time collaborator on her husband's work.

In 1935, Shortt secured a position at the Manitoba Museum as an artist technician. Although this granted him a regular wage, the museum was under-funded, causing Shortt to entertain the possibility of employment elsewhere. In 1938, he accepted a four-month contract at the American Museum of Natural History in New York doing taxidermy work. Although offered an extension to his contract, Shortt chose to work for the newly formed Ducks Unlimited Canada as an artist in the public relations department. He worked at Ducks Unlimited for thirty-four years (1939-1973). There he specialized in painting ducks and geese and donated his painting to many Ducks Unlimited fund-raisings. Angus Shortt also designed series of the Manitoba wildflower and bird paintings, series of 12 medallions featuring designs based on provincial wildflowers for Canada's Centennial, series of greeting cards depicting a variety of ducks, and sets of playing cards with wildlife illustrations for the U.S. Playing Card Co., Ohio.  He illustrated Treasure of Waterfowl (1946), Birds of Colorado (1965), and Ducks and Men: Forty Years of Co-operation in Conservation (1978).  He also contributed to the making of eighteen films for Ducks Unlimited.  Ducks Unlimited named a lake after him (Shortt Lake) to honor his longtime work.  In 1962, he designed a fifteen cent stamp for the post office department.  After his retirement, Shortt continued to accept commissions for paintings into the 1990s but in his later years only painted for his own enjoyment.

Angus Shortt’s career was punctuated by numerous exhibitions and radio and television appearances. In addition, he received many awards, including being awarded a bronze medal by the Natural History Society of Manitoba (N.H.S.M.) in 1947, elected president of the N.H.S.M. from 1947 to 1949, presented the Good Citizenship Award by the Manitoba Travel and Convention Bureau in 1969, awarded the Centennial Gold Medal of Remembrance by the Manitoba Historical Society in 1974, and received the Ducks Unlimited’s Art award.  The Golden Jubilee Medal was presented to Angus Shortt on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Accession of Her Majesty the Queen to the Throne in 2002.  Angus Shortt passed away on January 8, 2006 at the age of 97.

Custodial history: The fonds was donated to University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections by Angus and Elizabeth Shortt in 2004 and by the Shortt Family in 2006 and 2008.

Scope and content: Accessions A.04-36, A.04-07, A.04-115 consist primarily of photo albums and scrapbooks that document the artistic work of Angus Shortt.  In addition, the accessions include journals of birds observed by Shortt from 1931 to 1996. Both accessions have been divided into three series of scrapbooks, published materials, and journals. These accessions include 218 photos and 6 scrapbooks of photo reproductions of Angus Shortt’s art.

Accessions A.06-23 and A.06-37 consist of biographical information, correspondence, field records, journals, Ducks Unlimited publications, artwork collection, numerous paintings and designs of ducks and geese and other wildlife birds, photo-reproductions of artwork, scrapbooks reflecting Angus Shortt's graphic artwork, family photographs, and biographical information depicting his life. These accessions also include a substantial photograph and video collection (PC 207) featuring an interview with Angus and Betsy Shortt conducted by Bev Pike for the Manitoba Museum Archives and various Ducks Unlimited films.

Accession A.08-136 is divided into five series. They include unpublished manuscripts, published manuscripts, painted ashtrays (11 in total), framed paintings (23 in total), and unframed paintings (22 in total).

Restrictions: There are no restrictions on this material.

Accruals: No further accruals are expected.

Finding aid: On-line finding aids are available at the links below:

MSS 185, PC 207 (A.04-07, A.04-36, A.04-115)

MSS 185, PC 207 (A.06-23, A.06-37)

MSS 185 (A.08-136).