Painter. A childhood hearing loss curtailed Sharp's conventional schooling in his native Bridgeport, Ohio, but his artistic skill eneabled him to enroll at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati at the age of fourteen. In 1881 he went off to Europe, the first of three study trips abroad, each of which was followed by visits to New Mexico and the Columbia River basin. He spent part of the summer of 1893 in Taos and passed on word of its artistic resources to Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips, whom he had met in Paris in 1895. For two decades, he divided his time between teaching at the Cincinnati Art Academy, sketching in the Northwest, and summering at Taos, where he finally established a permanent residence in 1912. Sharp was a charter member of the Taos Society of Artists, with which he exhibitied for many years. His favorite subject was the Indian and his fast-disappearing lifestyle. Sharp drew and painted with a facility and accuracy that gave his work ethnographic as well as artistic value.
C.M. Russell Museum. Joseph Henry Sharp and the Lure of the West. (Great Falls, Mont.: C.M. Russell Museum, 1978).
Broder. Taos: A Painter's Dream.
Fenn. The Beat of the Drum and the Whoop of the Dance.
Charles Eldredge, Julie Schimmel, and William H. Truettner Art in New Mexico, 1900–1945: Paths to Taos and Santa Fe (Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1986)
Joseph Henry Sharp lost his hearing when he was young and was forced to leave school. James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales captured the lonely boy's imagination, as did a passing glimpse of an Indian tribe waylaid in West Virginia en route to Washington. His parents recognized his interests and talents, and sent him to study art at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati, where the artistic climate of the bustling city energized and inspired him. He trained in Europe as well, and after returning to America, devoted close to eighty years of his life to painting Native Americans throughout the western states. In 1901 the Smithsonian Institution acquired eleven of Sharp's portraits, a watershed moment in the artist's professional life. Ten years later the curator of anthropology at the Smithsonian wrote to Sharp, "I regard you as among the first, if not the very first, painter of Indian portraits in this country. The exactness with which you portray the physiognomy and the costumes of the people is most commendable" (Fenn, The Beat of the Drum and the Whoop of the Dance, 1983).