The gallery features more than a dozen pieces Shirk has produced since he retired from teaching art and moving from Pennsylvania to Montana in 2004. Now that he’s not supervising a classroom full of art students, Shirk has enjoyed the extra time to focus on his artwork.
“Art is very, very important to me, and it’s what makes me tick,” he said. “I’m hoping that in the next several years I can kind of get off the ground.”Shirk’s first major commissioned project in Montana was the Twin Bridges public library mural, which he completed in 2006. The mural addresses the various aspects of Madison County culture encompassed under a large gated archway, similar to the entrance to any number of ranches throughout the area.
“That was a life experience, painting that thing up there,” Shirk said. “The people were the biggest surprise to me.”
Over the course of the project Shirk encountered many folks who were curious about what he was doing.
“I had no clue how that would come off and it was really pretty neat, pretty exciting,” he said.
Shirk approaches his artwork as a welcome challenge, learning something new from each creative process. After graduating from Kutztown University with a degree in Art Education in 1970, he taught art classes at all grade levels for 34 years in Carlisle, Penn., as well as high school ceramics and sculpture. While the full schedule left Shirk little time for is own artwork, he’s now able to focus on taking on new art projects.
“I like challenges because I think it’s important that as an artist you make it difficult,” he said. “You don’t learn through doing easy things. You need to set the bar high and try to learn through solving the problem.”
Some of Shirk’s more recent work is on display in the library, including sketches of red foxes near his home. He observed the animals for over two weeks, taking in every aspect of their curious juvenile behavior, and his attention to detail shows through his work.
“When you make a statement, you need to make a series of statements and you build on that,” he said. “The idea is to make a statement that stops people, gets their attention and allows them to become involved in your statement.”
Shirk said that the art scene here in southwest Montana is impressive, recognizing the many talented individuals and amazing work found in the area.
“If you go someplace there’s an exhibit or there’s an art walk or there’s a gallery just opening or there’s a show or something that involves artists, whether they be craftsmen or painters or photographers or what have you,” he said. “For any artist, it makes you work that much harder so you can stay up with what’s going on.”