From childhood, Joseph Henry Sharp, born in Bridgeport, Ohio on September 27, 1859, was fascinated by anything he could learn about Native Americans. He also loved to fish, draw and swim. When a young boy, he nearly drowned in a river. As a result of this near-death incident, Sharp’s hearing was damaged severely before he completely lost his hearing at age 14. Sharp, however, had a great spirit and never let his deafness hold him back. He learned to read lips, and began to carry a pad and pencil with him everywhere he went, never losing his optimistic lookout on life. Around this time, he began to realize that he had a natural ability for drawing.
When Sharp was 12 years old, his father died. Young Joseph had to work to help support his mother. At 14, he went to live with an aunt in Cincinnati, where he worked to both support himself and to send money to his mother. He also enrolled in art classes. He worked for nearly eight years, saving his money. When he was about 20 years old, Sharp went to Europe to go to school to study art. He would return several times to continue his education and studies.
At the age of 24, he made his first trip to the West. During that visit, he encountered natives from several tribes. The sketches he created on that trip would be the basis for his first Native American portraits.
Sharp continued his travels to Europe to study art. Upon his return to the United States, he began teaching and also worked as an illustrator. He also traveled to New Mexico, the first painter to visit there. He left behind a cultural record of Native American life, landscapes and portraits. His work is referred to as poetic, and his love of the vanishing culture of the way of life in the old Western frontier and the Native American is seen in his work. He worked until his death in 1953 at the age of 94. Sharp was one of the West’s most important historians. His painting “Indian Encampment” depicts the Western frontier and life in a Sioux hunting camp.