The Thomas Nygard Gallery is committed to the scholarly research based on historical art of American West. Therefore, we have dedicated this space to the pursuit of educational excellence. Here, in a revolving online exhibition, you will find essays dedicated to the understanding of art and artist's of the Old West.

You will find memoirs on given artists, both superstars of the Western art world and undiscovered talents, and we will also delve into the more complex questions examining the movements, styles and influences of "Western Art."


Joseph Henry Sharp:
The Lure Of The West
By Thomas Nygard
Only a few artists come to mind when one attempts to classify accurate recorders of Montana history and it's Native Americans. Charles M. Russell more than adequately captured the more northwestern tribes of the Blackfeet, Nez Perce, Blood and their relatives. Henry Farny and Frederic Remington both did a magnificent job on a similar range of tribes as well. However, none did so unique an artistic rendering of the Plains Indian tribes as did Joseph Henry Sharp. Between 1897 and his death in 1955 he portrayed the Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux, Shoshone, Arapaho
and Blackfeet as well as any and better than almost any other artist of this period.

Mrs. Phoebe Hearst was directly responsible for the incentive that brought Sharp to Crow Agency in Southwestern Montana in 1902 for it was here that he chose to pursue her commission of 75 portraits of members of every major Plains tribe. The entire collection, along with 80 previously purchased portraits, was gifted to the University of California at Berkeley. Sharp had visited Montana as far north as Glacier Park and the Canadian border as early as 1897 but had returned to Cincinnati to continue his career.

His prior journeys did, however, provide a certain sense of familiarity for the artist and his wife when they moved to Montana in 1902 thus beginning a pattern followed by many artists to settle and establish their studios in the heart of their chosen subjects and, of course, their inspiration.
Sharp found that painting portraits on a commission basis was a very promising career when in Cincinnati and he was elated to be able to continue this in Montana for Ms. Hearst.

His subjects didn't stop at portraiture however as evidenced by his stunning compositional landscapes with their encampment scenes and their passive Native American genre. These were quite unlike the war cries and battle scenes left to us by Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington.
The gentle interpretations of this kindly easterner became known far and wide as a worthy successor to his mentor, Henry Farny, with whom he shared a studio and who had until the early 1900's been the almost exclusive artist of the Northern Plains south of Great Falls where Russell held ground.
Sharp's travels both early and later would include and perhaps emphasize Taos and its environs. He chose, however, to depict the Northern Plains after Henry Farny's age ended his western travels there. Sharp avoided that subject apparently out of respect for the elder Farny who had firmly established himself as the definitive
artist of the Northern Plains tribes. It was Sharp's belief that the demise of the buffalo coupled with the Indian Wars and the reservation system would hasten the disappearance of the Plains culture and traditions. He gauged very precisely and the examples that he left are accurate, poignant and sensitive all at once.
His records of the Plains Indian genre stir emotions not usually experienced in nonnative interpretations. It is difficult to view a work by this artist and not encounter some stirring sensation on an emotion yet discovered.

Sharp would go on to carve a niche for himself and his work that would claim title to extreme relevancy in the reflection of the Native American culture. The emphasis in his early career of southeastern Montana and bordering Wyoming would come to be some of the most pursued artistic interpretations of it's kind.