Joseph Henry Sharp

The "father of the Taos art colony", Joseph Henry Sharp was a painter, illustrator, and teacher whose love affair with the American Southwest and its native people was vividly expressed in his art. Born in Bridgeport, Ohio in 1859, Sharp was interested in Indians from boyhood. He began his art studies as a boy at the McMicken School of Design after an accident caused him to lose his hearing at the age of 14. He continued at the Cincinnati Art Academy, then at the age of 22 went to Antwerp to study with Charles Verlat. Five years later he studied with Karl Marr at the Munich Academy, then with Frank Duveneck in Spain and Italy. Finally, in the mid-1890s, he attended the Julian Academy in Paris with Laurens and Constant. In the midst of his art education, Sharp traveled to the West on a sketching trip in 1893. Though traveling to California and the Columbia River Basin, it was the Santa Fe area and its inhabitants that really captured his imagination. These sketches were used as illustrations for Harper’s Weekly, along with his observations. Ten years later, in 1893, Sharp returned to New Mexico, and "discovered" Taos. At the time (from 1892-1902) he was teaching at the Cincinnati Art Academy, but Taos continued to draw him and he returned frequently during the summers both to that area and to the plains to paint his Native American subjects. In 1901, Sharp was given a commission by the Crow Agency to build a studio in Montana near the battlefield where Custer fought and to "make a visual record of Indians who had fought against Custer." Sharp’s response was over 200 portraits from live models and photographs of more than 400. So realistically did he depict his subjects that Phoebe Hearst bought 80 works for the University of California’s anthropology department a year later. These depictions were very different from Sharp’s tender portraits of Indian life in the pueblos near Taos. He was concerned that the traditions of native culture were being eroded and this was often reflected in his romanticized depictions of every day life. His first major exhibited work, held by the Cincinnati Art Museum and entitled "Harvest Dance", is an example of this. He finally moved to Taos permanently in 1912, and started a campaign to get other artists to join him. He is credited with starting a Taos school of painting, and was a charter member of the Taos Society of Artists since its inception in 1915. In the 1930s Sharp went to Hawaii several times where he varied his routine by painting still lifes and seascapes. Late in life Sharp worked primarily in Pasadena where he had established a studio in 1910. He died there in 1953. Sharp’s love of Native American Indians and his great talent at portraying them on canvas has led to a great body of work held in museums throughout the country, including New Mexico, Oklahoma, California, Texas, Wyoming, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. The Smithsonian Institution also has eleven of his Indian portraits. Sources: WWAA; Dawdy: Artists of the American West, vol. 1; Forbes: Encounters With Paradise; Gerdts: Art Across America; Hughes: Artists in California 1786-1940; Samuels & Samuels: Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Written by Sarah Nelson The "father of the Taos art colony", Joseph Henry Sharp was a painter, illustrator, and teacher whose love affair with the American Southwest and its native people was vividly expressed in his art. Born in Bridgeport, Ohio in 1859, Sharp was interested in Indians from boyhood. He began his art studies as a boy at the McMicken School of Design after an accident caused him to lose his hearing at the age of 14. He continued at the Cincinnati Art Academy, then at the age of 22 went to Antwerp to study with Charles Verlat. Five years later he studied with Karl Marr at the Munich Academy, then with Frank Duveneck in Spain and Italy. Finally, in the mid-1890s, he attended the Julian Academy in Paris with Laurens and Constant. In the midst of his art education, Sharp traveled to the West on a sketching trip in 1893. Though traveling to California and the Columbia River Basin, it was the Santa Fe area and its inhabitants that really captured his imagination. These sketches were used as illustrations for Harper’s Weekly, along with his observations. Ten years later, in 1893, Sharp returned to New Mexico, and "discovered" Taos. At the time (from 1892-1902) he was teaching at the Cincinnati Art Academy, but Taos continued to draw him and he returned frequently during the summers both to that area and to the plains to paint his Native American subjects. In 1901, Sharp was given a commission by the Crow Agency to build a studio in Montana near the battlefield where Custer fought and to "make a visual record of Indians who had fought against Custer." Sharp’s response was over 200 portraits from live models and photographs of more than 400. So realistically did he depict his subjects that Phoebe Hearst bought 80 works for the University of California’s anthropology department a year later. These depictions were very different from Sharp’s tender portraits of Indian life in the pueblos near Taos. He was concerned that the traditions of native culture were being eroded and this was often reflected in his romanticized depictions of every day life. His first major exhibited work, held by the Cincinnati Art Museum and entitled "Harvest Dance", is an example of this. He finally moved to Taos permanently in 1912, and started a campaign to get other artists to join him. He is credited with starting a Taos school of painting, and was a charter member of the Taos Society of Artists since its inception in 1915. In the 1930s Sharp went to Hawaii several times where he varied his routine by painting still lifes and seascapes. Late in life Sharp worked primarily in Pasadena where he had established a studio in 1910. He died there in 1953. Sharp’s love of Native American Indians and his great talent at portraying them on canvas has led to a great body of work held in museums throughout the country, including New Mexico, Oklahoma, California, Texas, Wyoming, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. The Smithsonian Institution also has eleven of his Indian portraits. Sources: WWAA; Dawdy: Artists of the American West, vol. 1; Forbes: Encounters With Paradise; Gerdts: Art Across America; Hughes: Artists in California 1786-1940; Samuels & Samuels: Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Written by Sarah Nelson
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