As Sharp spent more winters in Montana, he began to have trouble finding models, spurring him to shift much of his figure painting to his time in Taos, where he noted that he could get models for much cheaper. Crucita and Bawling Deer were two of Sharp’s favorite Taos models. He painted each of them several times over the course of his career (Records 18, 56, 49, 100).
In this painting, Crucita and Bawling Deer appear seated around a light source which is largely obscured from the viewer’s line of sight by Bawling Deer’s body. This type of interiorly lighted scene demonstrates Sharp’s combination of creativity and European training. While in Europe, Sharp was exposed to artists such as George de la Tours and Gerrit Dou who both experimented with interiorly lighted compositions, often with the light source physically obscured by a figure in the scene. Interestingly, on the back of the canvas, Sharp has written “Painted about 1920—In the method of the Old Masters—On white canvas, with white, black and Venetian red and colors glazed on.” (Gilcrease Museum records) This comment directly relates the painting to the influence of the Old Masters, two of which were de la Tours and Dou. However, while Crucita and Bawling Deer—Taos Indians certainly shows the influence of these two painters, in technique and subject, it is also inherently a Sharp painting.
Sharp experimented with different configurations of exterior and interior lighting throughout his lifetime across all the subjects he chose to paint. This scene in particular exemplifies Sharp’s meticulously honed skill. Not only does the fire burning in the kiva fireplace recall a fire burning under the night sky, bringing a taste of the exterior to the interior scene, but Sharp expertly captures the effects of the light emanating from that fire. He subtly demonstrates how it affects the surface of the drum that Bawling Deer holds, rendering the hide so that it appears slightly luminous. Additionally, Crucita’s face is brightly highlighted while Bawling Deer’s back appears in shadow, with just a hint of bright light present at the outline of his face. These nuanced treatments of light demonstrate Sharp’s ability to control and convey the appearance of light in his paintings. The painting, as a whole, also establishes Sharp’s ability to incorporate multiple artistic influences into his work while bringing his own skill and style to the composition.
UC on dust cover: Crucita and Bawling Deer - Taos Indians - Painted about 1920 - In the method of the Old Masters - On white canvas, with white, black and Venitian [sic] red and colors glazed on. J.H.Sharp
The artist; Thomas Gilcrease, Tulsa, OK; The Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, Tulsa, OK, 1955; present owner by gift
There are no known public exhibitions with this title listed. In the late teens and early twenties, Sharp was producing a good number of firelight scenes, usually identified by sitter. One that appeared at the Hotel Gibson galleries in 1922, titled Firelight Song, is generic enough to suggest this work.
There is a related small sketch titled Crucita, Taos Indian Girl that may be a study for this work. (related image 620)