The Sharps spent most of the summer of 1898 in Taos. They lived in a small adobe house at or near the Pueblo and, as Sharp defined his place, “becoming a sort of fixture for the summer, soon gained their (the Indians) confidence.” Among the earliest sitters for the artist was a Taos Pueblo man named Juan Concha, who was or had been a governor of the Pueblo. (related image 355a) Sharp later used this watercolor portrait to illustrate in a lengthy article, "An Artist among the Indians," about his New Mexico experiences in the national art magazine Brush and Pencil. (4/1899, pg. 3)
Sharp photographed Concha several times in 1898. One pose (related image 500b) is especially close to that of the final watercolor. Concha sits comfortably outside in a chair that the artist has supplied, and he holds a cigarette in his left hand, no doubt a part of the payment that Sharp was used to providing to get sitters to abide the boredom of modeling.
Sharp's success with watercolor at this time was broadly recognized. The critic for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver (where the Sharps passed through coming from and going to Taos) was exalting in the description of the artist's watercolors. They were "beautiful," showed "close study," and are "good in color." No wonder, the critic wrote, that "he finds ready sale for" them "in the East." (Rocky Mountain News, 12/4/98)
So impressed was Sharp with the artistic achievement of this rare watercolor portrait that he made an engraving of the painting, which was sold separately. (related image 500a) The image is reversed in the print, but the gentle tones of the steel engraving reflect the affection that Sharp felt for the sitter. The original watercolor, by contrast, is brilliantly chromatic. The sitter’s rose red choker complements his sapphire blue shirt and the ocean green blanket that drapes over his shoulders. Sharp must have enjoyed exploring these two different artistic worlds, one of vibrant color and the other of subtle tones of gray and black. The print and the painting are wonderful companion works and illustrate the success that Sharp experienced in two diverse media.
Peter H. Hassrick