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Joseph Henry Sharp (American, 1859-1953)


Also known as:  Sharp, J. H.

Birth Place: Bridgeport (Hardin county, Ohio, United States)

Joseph Henry Sharp was one of the most influential artists of the American Southwest. In his 94 years he produced a remarkable body of work, much of it dedicated to the sensitive portrayal of Native Americans. Sharp grew up in Cincinnati, where he studied briefly with Henry Farny, another artist largely known for his Native American subjects. Formally trained in the academies of Europe, Sharp first began painting American Indian subjects in Montana, where he established a studio on the Crow Reservation and frequently painted tribal leaders. His work on the reservation led to a magazine illustration assignment that took him to Northern New Mexico. Sharp was captivated with the land, the light, and the native cultures of the Southwest. While studying in Europe, Sharp met two other Midwestern artists, Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips. His stories of New Mexico and the Southwest inspired the two artists to take a painting trip to the area. Eventually all three artists would move to the small Northern New Mexico town of Taos and form the Taos Society of Artists.

Sharp began collecting Native American material while in Montana, and by the time he set up his studio in Taos he had amassed a large collection that he frequently utilized in his paintings. Once in Taos, Sharp's Indian portraits underwent a slow but distinct evolution. At first, he essentially continued to paint Northern Plains portraits by dressing his Taos Indian models in the clothing he collected on the Crow Agency. Most often these portraits evoked Northern Plains traditions by the inclusion of objects from the daily lives of such tribes as the Crow, Sioux, and Blackfeet. Gradually Sharp began to turn his attention away from his previous subjects to focus on the life and culture that surrounded him in New Mexico. While he continued to rely on his collection of Plains material throughout his long career, he just as often produced portraits and paintings that showed the lives and customs of his Taos models as they truly lived.

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