Part 2: Travels East, Travels West
Reprinted courtesy Western Art Collector
14 years after his masterpiece Beat of the Drum Whoop of the Dance
went out of print, Forrest Fenn has updated the book and has published
a revised edition containing 200 new images. He has kindly given us
permission to extract from his grand Teepee Smoke: A New Look into
the Life and Works of Joseph Henry Sharp. Containing newly discovered
paintings and photographs from old private collections and museum
basements, the new book with its glorious images and drawings
represents a treasure-trove for the Sharpe collector.
Last time we left our master painter Joseph Henry Sharp, he was sailing
to Europe in 1881 to refine his artistic style.
J. H. Sharp, La Neophyte, oil, 40 x 30"
COLLECTION OF THE BUTLER INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN ART,
PHOTO COURTESY BUFFALO BILL HISTORICAL CENTER.
Unlike most American artists of the
time who studied in Munich, Pares
or The Hague, Sharp chose on his
first European trip to study the Antwerp, a
city whose magnificent Gothic architecture
reflected a vibrant and varied history.
During the Renaissance and Reformation,
Antwerp had nurtured many of the world’s
great Flemish and Dutch masters whose
sense of humanity and use of common
people as subjects of their paintings had a
marked influence on later French painters.
Antwerp was also the home of Peter Paul
Rubens (1577-1640), whose masterpieces
hung in the city’s great cathedral and in the
world-renowned Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Sharp revered Rubens for his experiences
with color and light and for his ability to
express a tremendous sweeping energy
and dramatic tension in his paintings.
Sharp chose to study with the
renowned portrait painters, Charles Verlat
(1834-1890), at the Antwerp Academy
of Fine Arts because, like most artists of
the time, he would have to earn most of
his living painting portraits. He studied
in Antwerp for a year and afterwards
traveled to Brussels and then took brief
excursions to France and Germany
before returning to Cincinnati in 1882.
J. H. Sharp, Standing Deer-Taos, Martinez, oil, 16 x 12"
PHOTO COURTESY OF FORREST FENN
Unlike Duveneck, Sharp did not return
with a handful of medals and awards, but
he did come back with confidence in his
ability and the determination to become
an important artist. His first task was to
locate a studio, and to this end he looked
up his friend and former teacher, Henry
Farny was a gregarious and openhearted
man who especially enjoyed
entertaining friends and lent them money
when they were in need, even at the risk
of neglecting his own financial affairs.
He made Sharp welcome and wanted
to hear about his experiences abroad.
Farny himself had only recently returned
from the Munich Academy, so the two
had long conversations about current art
movements and techniques and about the
difficulties of trying to make a living as an
artist. The slips of paper Sharp was never
without passed back and forth endlessly.
At Farney’s suggestion, Sharp rented a
studio at 30 West Fourth Street, the same
building in which Farny had had his studio.
Located several flights up, the particular
room that Sharp rented had been occupied
earlier by Thomas Buchanan Read (1822-
1872) and would later serve as the studio
of Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910),
Clarence Bartlett, Thomas S. Noble (1835-
1907), Louis Lutz (d. 1894), and Lewis H.
Sharp’s credibility as a professional
artist was enhanced now that he had
spent that important year abroad, and
during the next year he was able to save
enough money from portrait commissions
to plan a trip to the Western frontier. Sharp
was not alone in his attraction to the
romance of the West: dime-store novels
about gunslingers, cowboys, outlaws, and
Indians were best-sellers. Frequently, the
truth as reported in the newspapers was
even more incredible that the fictionalized
accounts. Less than two years before Sharp
traveled West, Billy the Kid had been
shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort
Sumner, New Mexico. Three months later,
the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday had
faced the McLaurys and the Clantons at the
O.K. Corral. Apaches still roamed the hills,
and newspapers reported with disturbing
regularity their attacks upon ranchers and
prospectors who were unlucky enough to
be caught alone in the wilderness.
J. H. Sharp, Squaw Winter-Crow, oil, 30 x 28"
PHOTO COURTESY COEUR D’ALENE ART AUCTION, RENO, NV
Sharp’s interest in the West centered
on the Indians, and he yearned to study
their cultures and to paint their portraits.
He told Farny about his ambitions, but
Farny was cagey in his response. Farny had
found the market for paintings of Indians
quire lucrative; thus he was less than
eager to share the market with another
artist, especially one of Sharp’s ability.
Farny tried to discourage him, pointing out
the overwhelming difficulties and chilling
dangers of the undertaking—a man, after
all, could get killed out there; it was still wild country, and travel was very
hazardous. But Sharp had made up his
mind, and Farny realized that he could not
dissuade him. With reluctance, he gave
Sharp books about the Pueblo Indians.
Farny’s subjects were generally the Indians
of the plains. And he also told Sharp about
a secret sect in northern New Mexico, the
Penitentes, whose members performed
bizarre religious rites.
By the end of the year, Sharp had
enough money to begin planning his
journey, and by the late spring of 1883,
had completed all the arrangements. He
closed his studio, bade Farny goodbye,
and eagerly headed West.
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe
Railroad left Cincinnati bound for Chicago.
From there the line dropped southwest
across the fertile farmlands of Illinois into
the rolling hills of Missouri, then out
across the grassy plains, terrible with the
summer’s heat. In the distance, the traveler
could see herds of grazing cattle and
small bands of horses, and occasionally,
a small herd of buffalo or a lone Indian
on his pony, watching silently as the train
passed by. The sod huts of early settlers
scarred the plains, most of them crumbling
from long disuse but a few had doorways
that framed the faces of curious children
who stared in wonder at the giant steam
locomotive and its long line of cars bound
for places unknown.
J. H. Sharp, Seascape, circa 1930, Oil on Board, 9" x 6.5"
In western Kansas the land began to
swell like an ocean in a gathering storm;
great mounds and strange shapes rose and
then fell back to the horizon in an endless
wash of colors—burnt orange, siennas,
red-browns, and a diversity of greens,
bright yellows, lavenders and blues. Huge
piles of rock, formed by millions of years
of erosion, studded the hillsides. Across
the corner of southeastern Colorado and
down into what is now New Mexico,
the land gradually became a wilderness
of twisted fullies, endless ruts, dried river
beds, and occasional ponds glistening
under the hot, silent sky. The ruggedness of
the country inspired Sharp, and he thought
about the passage of time and the myriad
bands of people over thousands of years
who had roamed this vast, desolate land,
leaving little, if any, sign of their presence.
The mountains and clouds at first
rippled like purple waves on the horizon,
insignificant against the huge sweep of
land and sky; to the left, the skies gleamed
brightly in the sunlight; far to the right,
clouds and rain formed a high, dark,
ominous curtain. The train traveled on, up
and down, winding along steep and flattopped
mesas until at last the mountains
looked large and the horizon became
a stormy struggle between thunderhead
and mountain peak. When the train stopped at Galisteo Junction (Lamy) in
the New Mexico Territory, Sharp wearily
disembarked, stretched his legs, washed
the dust from his face, and went looking
for a place to eat. He didn’t have to look
far, as the town consisted of a hotel and
saloon, a few adobe houses, a tienda
(store), and a church. After a good meal,
he boarded a train that crawled the spur
track to Santa Fe, which in 1880 had a
population of 6,635 people.
At the end of the track he found a
settlement crowded with old churches and
low adobe houses. The business district
consisted of several trading posts, a bank, a
couple of hotels, and three or four saloons
in which the noise of drunken celebration
was punctuated by the report of gunshots in
a blue-black atmosphere reeking of cheap
whiskey, stale coffee, sweat and violence.
Across from the mud-walled Palace of the
Governors, the dusty plaza teemed with
activity: bearded rough-skinned traders sat
atop loaded freight wagons harnessed to
weary mules; Indians traded and sold hides
and goods brought in from the pueblos;
and cowboys lounged about while their
horses slept standing at the rail, swatting
at flies with their tails. Impatient to see
as much of the West as possible, Sharp
stayed in the Santa Fe area only long
enough to learn about the pueblos of the
Rio Grande, particularly the great Taos
Pueblo and its nearby Spanish village. He
contented himself with a few sketches of
the area and its people before taking a stage
to Albuquerque, where he boarded the
narrow gauge train to Tucson.
Because the open cars were not
intended for passengers, the trip was
dusty and uncomfortable. Passengers ate
at the stops along the way, but there was
seldom enough food because a cavalry
detachment pursuing Apache warriors led
by Chato had recently passed through the
area and requisitioned almost all available
supplies. Sharp lived primarily on crackers
and water on this leg of his journey.
From Tucson, he traveled by the
standard gauge railroad to California,
where he boarded a ship that sailed up
the coast. After it ran aground at the mouth
of the Columbia River, Sharp decided to
stay on land and explore the Northwest on
horseback and by stagecoach.
About Forrest Fenn:
Forrest Fenn grew up in the wilds
of Montana where he began finding
arrowheads and other small Indian
artifacts. His hobby developed into
a career of collecting, buying, selling
and trading not only artifacts but also
weapons, weavings and pots. The
collection grew, the reputation grew,
and the hobby grew into a business.
Forrest finally opened a trading post
that expanded to include sculpture
and paintings. The collector became a
dealer and he built a large, beautiful
gallery which included works by
Joseph Henry Sharp.
The images reproduced here are from the book
Teepee Smoke A New Look Into the Life and
Work of Joseph Henry Sharp originally published
in 1983 by One Horse Land & Cattle Co. with kind
permission Forrest Fenn. Copies of this book can be
purchased online at www.oldsantafetradingco.com