The founder of the Taos art colony, Joseph Henry Sharp recorded Native Americans and their traditional ways of life. Born in 1859 in Bridgeport, Ohio, Sharp joined the talented students at the McMicken School of Design at age fourteen. He later pursued a rigorous course of study in several European art capitals.
In 1883, persuaded by Henry Farny’s example and by an attraction to American Indians dating to boyhood readings of James Fenimore Cooper, Sharp traveled to Santa Fe. Immediately his romantic notions were supplanted by respect for his native models as individuals, and by a sensitivity to their loss of land and customs. For the rest of his life, Sharp painted Native American subjects around Taos and in Montana, where he made two hundred portraits of warriors who had fought against Custer.
Sharp painted "Harvest Dance" at the peak of his artistic powers. In an article in the October 14, 1893 issue of "Harper’s Weekly," he described this splendid ceremony as “a striking scene of gorgeous color.... The brilliant sunlight illumines the gaudy trappings of the dancers. Rows of gayly dressed Apaches, Navajos, and Pueblos on horseback encircle in quiet dignity the enthusiastic actors, while a little farther off the whole scene is framed in by the gleaming walls of the white and yellow houses, whose roofs are crowded with men, women, and children.... The dancing was kept up for seven long hours; but there was never any shirking; they stamped as energetically the last hour as the first.”