Full NameHenry MeloyDate of Birth1902Date of Death1951DescriptionThe majority of Henry Meloy’s work is in the possession of the Henry Meloy Educational Trust which was started by the surviving family. The Trust has partnered with the Montana Museum of Art and Culture in Missoula, MT to preserve Henry Meloy’s work and legacy. The Trust provides the MMAC with content and financial resources, as well as historical accounts and records related to Meloy's life and the museum exhibits, researches, and promotes the artist’s legacy.
Henry Meloy was a multi-talented artist in the first half of the 20th century; he experimented with a wide array of artistic styles and participated in several modernist movements. Born in Townsend Montana in 1902, he witnessed two world wars, survived the Spanish Flu pandemic and the Great Depression which he recorded in his artwork. After studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Meloy relocated to New York City to continue his studies at the National Academy of Fine Arts and the Art Students League. In New York, he became acquainted with modernist artists including Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, George Grosz, Reginald Marsh, Jackson Pollock, and many others. He was the most well-connected artist from Montana living in New York City during a pivotal moment for modern art in America. He not only took advantage of the fullness of the city’s cultural life, but also contributed to its development. His life's work is a window into American art of the 1920s-40s both in the west and in New York City.
Meloy worked primarily as an illustrator during the 1930s, creating commercial illustrations for western pulp magazines, doing private portraits, and fulfilling Works Progress Administration commissions during the Depression. He produced traditional western art that reflected life in Montana during the 1930s and 1940s and earned him a reputation as a “cowboy artist” in the mode of Charles M. Russell. These works involved landscapes, genre scenes, portraits of his friends and family, and images of western fauna. His notebooks record his discipline and skills-building in illustration, but also an intense desire to not limit himself to one genre of art.
Influenced by his classical education but increasingly exposed to the evolving artistic philosophies of the first two decades of the 20th century, Meloy experimented with a broad range of modernist styles, working to understand the mechanics of modern aesthetics and formalism, what made works succeed in composition, subject, shape, line, and color. His journals and practice sketches record a methodical process in which the artist approached his art more like a scientist seeking the perfect balance of elements in order to achieve the desired effect. In 1940, he was hired at Columbia University where he taught until his untimely death at age 49.