Teepee Smoke: A New Look Into the Life and Work of Joseph Henry Sharp

Foreword written by Clark Hulings

Most art books consist of a large group of painting reproductions, each accompanied by a few words describing circumstances pertaining to it. Although this book contains many fine images of Joseph Henry Sharp’s work, it is primarily a riveting, page turning biography of this remarkable man.

The author, Forrest Fenn, is the son of a school teacher who encouraged him to read and write a lot. This developed curiosity, interest in history, and writing skills. As a teenager he worked as a fishing guide in the wilds of Montana where he began finding arrowheads and other small Indian artifacts. Thus began a hobby. Later, his years in the Air Force took him to varied places where the practice continued. This 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. The collection expanded to include sculpture and paintings. The collector became a dealer and he built a large, beautiful gallery. Joseph Henry Sharp’s paintings of Indians were among those displayed. It was Forrest’s custom, being a good dealer, to inform himself thoroughly about the things he offered for sale and he began to read about Sharp.

It soon because apparent to Forrest that Henry Sharp was an extraordinary person. Having decided at a young age that he wanted to be an artist, he prepared himself with a fine education in painting. He was fortunate to be from Cincinnati at the close of the 19th century where there lived and worked a number of accomplished painters. Many of them traveled to Antwerp, Munich and Paris to study and Sharp joined them. He became, as did most at that time, a portrait painter.

But what really interested Forrest came later. Bored with portrait painting, Sharp, on a trip to the West, discovered and became fascinated with Indians. He studied them, made friends with them and chronicled their way of life for decades. He settled among them and communicated with them, even though he was completely deaf!

Forrest, in turn, became fascinated with Sharp – enough to form a large collection of his paintings. His curiosity turned into serious research and a gradual determination to document his life in words as Sharp had done for Indians in paint.

My own introduction to Sharp’s paintings occurred when, in 1962, I began showing my own work at Grand Central Art Gallery in New York. Sharp had been for a long time an established artist-member. I had lived in Santa Fe for a year in the 1940s with occasional day visits to Taos. I enjoyed seeing his paintings in New York as much for the nostalgia that they invoked as for their excellence. Over the past thirty-five years in the West I have seen many of Sharp’s works and know them. As an artist who has also experienced the hardships of finding interesting subject matter in far flung places, lugging paint box and easel, I identify with his struggles. Identify but not match. I have few problems with transportation or accommodation. And I have my hearing.

Besides being entertained by a well-told story about an unusual and interesting man, the reader of his book will learn a great deal about the Indians themselves and their almost long gone lifestyle.

Forrest and I have known each other since 1972 when we both settled in Santa Fe. Although we have never been involved together in business, we share many common interests and a fine friendship. I am honored to have been asked to write this forward.

To know and be impressed by the exhaustive research done by him, glance at the pages of “Acknowledgements” (p-304-6). To know how well it is written, read any page.

Clark Hulings

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