Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1944) was born in Bridgeport, Ohio. He received his fine arts training in Cincinnati and Europe and taught at the Cincinnati Art Academy from 1892 to 1902, until he quit teaching and devoted himself to painting. The financial freedom afforded him by the patronage of Phoebe Hearst gave him the means and confidence to uproot and move west in order to pursue his interest painting indigenous people and cultures.
The artist’s first visit to southeastern Montana was in 1899 on the Crow Agency. From 1902 until 1910, Sharp spent the fall and winter months on the reservation, where he built a log cabin studio. During this time, Sharp made trips to other reservations including Browning and Lame Deer. But in 1910, deteriorating health expedited his permanent move to New Mexico, where he co-founded the Taos Society of Artists, and turned his focus from the landscape and people of the Plains to the southwest.
While Sharp only used photography for reference, or as an aide memoire, to assist him with his paintings and etchings, it is clear that the medium became a primary tool for his visual and artistic eye. Sharp used his camera to lay the groundwork for his painterly compositions, actively posing his subjects and himself to capture magnetic portraits and scenes from everyday life.
The Joseph Henry Sharp Photograph Collection includes approximately 2,972 photographs, negatives, glass sides, and ephemera. The twenty-five photographs on display were developed from nitrate negatives and were hand printed as photogravures, a historic method appropriate to the artist’s era.