Joseph H. Sharp

(1859 - 1953)

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Few artists of the American West have ever approached the success or mastery with which Joseph Henry Sharp chronicled the native people and ways of that vanishing frontier. Although Sharp painted in many parts of the world, among them Europe, Hawaii and the Orient, it is the work that he did among the Indians of New Mexico and Montana for which he is especially honored. His portraits and paintings of Native Americans not only are appreciated for their extraordinary artistry, but also have long been used as a source for anthropological insight into various facets of the lives of their subjects.

Sharp was born in Bridgeport, Ohio, in 1859. Like many young men who grew up in the years after the Civil War, he developed a real fascination for Indians and the West, to which he would apply his keen and unerring talent for art. Even before leaving to study in Europe, he had begun to envision the travels that he would make upon his return. Making good his promises to himself, Sharp made his first visit to southeastern Montana in 1899. The fruits of these journeys were exhibited to great acclaim at the Paris Exposition of 1900. In 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt, an admirer of Sharp's work, directed his Indian commission to build the artist a studio at the Crow Indian agency on the site of the Custer battlefield. Sharp is the only artist ever to have been honored in this way by the United States government, and paintings from this commission hold a special place in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Joseph H. Sharp first visited the small village of Taos, New Mexico in 1893. Not long after, while in Paris, he extolled the virtues of this small town to the young artists Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips, setting into motion events that would lead to the start of the Taos Art Colony. As a result, Sharp is generally considered to be the founder of this group.

Sharp built a permanent home and studio in Taos during the early years of the twentieth century. No matter where he happened to be, he was moved to record the rapidly vanishing lives of the Native Americans. He knew well and liked the Indians he painted, feelings that they greatly reciprocated -- and felt for few other white men. As a result, he was allowed an astonishing freedom to paint them.