Alaska Artists: Joseph Henry Sharp

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Joseph Henry Sharp is widely considered to have been the “Spiritual Father” of the Taos Society of Artists. He was known for his Indian figure and genre painting as well as for exquisitely colorful landscapes. Joseph Henry Sharp was one of the first Caucasian artists to visit New Mexico, arriving in Santa Fe in 1883. He was also a visitor to Alaska, being one of the early artists who visited there after the purchase of the Territory. He left behind a vast cultural record of Native American life, landscapes, and portraiture. His work is often referred to as poetic, and is steeped in deep nostalgia that he felt all his life for the vanishing culture of the American Indian and the old west.

Sharp was born in Bridgeport, Ohio on September 27, 1859 to Irish parents. His father was a local merchant. From his earliest days, Sharp was fascinated by anything he could learn about the American Indians. As a boy, Sharp nearly drowned in a swimming accident. He was pulled from the water and carried to his home by friends who thought he was dead. His mother resuscitated him, but the incident permanently damaged his hearing, and he gradually became totally deaf. As a result, he had to learn to read lips and had to carry a writing pad with him

Joseph Sharp's father died when he was twelve years old; soon after, Sharp began working in a nail factory to help support his family. By age 14, his hearing loss made continued schooling impossible and Joseph Sharp moved to Cincinnati, where he lived with an aunt and worked to support himself and send money to his mother. Joseph Sharp did study briefly at the McMicken School of Design, then enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy In 1881, Sharp traveled to Europe, where he studied for a year at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. He briefly returned to the United States and in 1883 made the first of his journeys to the American West, visiting the states of New Mexico, Arizona, California and Wyoming, where he began sketching members of American Indian tribes.

In 1893, he made his second trip to the American West in the company of fellow Cincinnati artist John Hauser, who had studied in Europe with him. They visited Taos, New Mexico for the first time, Sharp on a commission from Harper's Weekly to illustrate Indian life at the Taos Pueblo The Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the local Indian culture sparked his enthusiasm, which he shared with colleagues Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips at Académie Julian the next year

Phoebe Hearst (mother of William Randolph Hearst) bought 80 of Sharp's paintings of Native Americans. This enabled him to quit teaching, move into Absarokee Hut with his wife Addie, and devote himself to painting. Hearst commissioned an additional 75 portraits to include members of every major Great Plains tribe. (Hearst's entire collection of 155 of Sharp's paintings was eventually donated to the University of California, Berkeley.)

Sharp continued to spend some summers in New Mexico, and in 1909 he purchased a former Penitente chapel in Taos for use as a studio. It was near the home of the artist E. Irving Couse. The Sharps finally made a permanent move to Taos in 1912, where Addie died in 1913. Responding to the new landscape and light of New Mexico, Sharp began to change some of his techniques. Although he had trained as an academic painter and usually worked in his studio, he adopted plein air painting for the first time. In 1915, along with Couse, Sharp became one of the six founding members of the Taos Society of Artists, of which he was the most senior and experienced. They worked as a sales cooperative to develop Taos internationally as a recognized artistic community. They continued the Society until 1927.

Johnny AculiakEdwin Tappan Adney| George Twok Aden AhgupukAlvin Eli Amason| Saradell Ard|   Belmore Browne| Vincent ColyerJules Bernard DahlagerLockwood De Forest| Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh| William Franklin Draper| | Henry Wood Elliott| John Fehringer| Claire Fejes| Louis Agassiz Fuertes| Magnus Colcord Heurlin| Norman Jackson| Rockwell Kent| Sydney Mortimer Laurence| Fred Machetanz| Marvin Mangus| Milo Minock| James Kivetoruk Moses| Rie MunozJoseph Henry Sharp| James Everett Stuart| John Webber| Kesler Woodward|


joseph Sharp watercolor

Joseph Sharp native american watercolor

Alaska's Tribes:

Below is a full list of the different Alaska Native cultures. Within each culture are many different tribes.

Learn more about Alaskan tribes

Aleut Athabascan Eyak
Haida Inuit Tlingit
Tsimshian Yupik