Joseph Henry Sharp: A Symphony in Silence

by Bruce Eldredge, Nell Horton and Janis Ziller Becker



Later in life Sharp's relationship with Thomas Gilcrease, a Tulsa oilman and Sharp patron, was such that he had little need to humor those who wished to buy his paintings. Gilcrease purchased more paintings than any other single collector. In a 1947 letter to the Director of the National Gallery, Sharp said: "I'm almost cleaned out of Indian stuff last two years -- Gilcrease Foundation got the last seventy-five portraits of the old Custer and other warriors. Now over two-hundred of the old heads are in museums...1 am satisfied."[11] In 1949, Gilcrease's museum honored Sharp with a huge retrospective of his work which included over 200 of his paintings -- not a bad way to celebrate one's ninetieth birthday.

Sharp passed away on August 29, 1953, in Pasadena, California. At the memorial service in Taos, Ernest Blumenschein summed up Sharp and his life's work this way:

... some of these paintings will live as long as paint lasts on canvas. He was the reporter, the recorder of the absolute integrity of the American Indian.... He will go down in history with Russell and Remington and the few early artists of Indian life. In trying to arrive at real values in our group of Taos artists, I sometimes wonder if our ambitious attempts along high art lines will be worth as much to the world as the honest unvarying recording of this simple man, Henry Sharp. [12]

The Joseph Henry Sharp Collection in the Stark Museum of Art consists of eighty-four objects, mostly oil paintings on a variety of support media. The balance of the collection consists of ten objects including his easel, paints and brushes, four photographs, one watercolor, one etching, and one pastel.

The collection was acquired primarily between 1954 and 1957 by Mr. and Mrs. H.T. Lutcher Stark from the LaFonda Art Gallery in Taos, New Mexico. Correspondence in the museum's files indicate that Mr. Stark was in contact with J. H. Sharp through a mutual friend less than two weeks before Sharp's death. In this early correspondence Mr. Stark hopes to see Sharp the third week in September 1953 to view and possibly purchase several paintings.

Two years after Sharp's death Mr. Stark made contact with Mrs. Louise Sharp. He requested a list of all of the paintings and other works of art in her possession available from the estate. However, no further contact was made between the Starks and Mrs. Sharp, possibly owing to Mrs. Sharp's deteriorating health.

Sharp lived most of his life with his inability to hear the sounds in this world. This fact did not deter his ability to show, in his paintings, a harmony of color and a consonance of feeling. His compositions were beautifully formed. The viewer hears the loud dissonant voices of the Indian warriors along with the soft melodious movements of the landscapes and still lifes.


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