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Sharp, John Oliver

(1911 - 1966)

While he was a student at the Art Student's League in New York, Sharp met fellow artist Paul Crosthwaite, and the two became lifelong companions.  Around 1935, they started spending summers in New Hope, moving there permanently shortly thereafter. Their apartment and studio was above the Solebury National Bank, at the foot of the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge.  The building was home to many of the New Hope artists, including Charles Ramsey and Henry Snell. John and Paul summered on Nantucket and painted here.


John O.R. Sharp (1911-1966)

Born in Galesburg, Illinois, John Sharp, with his parents, soon settled in Eldon, Iowa, where their family home was built within a block of the local library. Known locally for his art talents, John graduated from high school in May 1928 and then enrolled at the University of Iowa, completing roughly eighteen months of studies towards a liberal arts degree (1928-1930). While a college student and visiting Cedar Rapids' Little Gallery, Sharp met both Grant Wood and Edward Rowan, the museum's director who had recently rented a summer property in Eldon. Rowan, inspired by the small community, began to organize an extension of the museum's offerings, showcasing both regional and local artists.

As the summer studio preparations continued, Sharp's parents agreed to serve among the local hosts for the event named the "Eldon Art Center," scheduled for August 1930. Rowan's plans called for renting a local building, offering rotating exhibits, providing art classes to young people, then concluding with music and art appreciation courses. Funding for the ambitious undertaking came from the American Federation of the Arts, the sponsoring body for the Little Gallery. Grant Wood, eager to assist the Eldon efforts, offered his talents and requested a local tour of the community. The young man who volunteered, John Sharp, made his mark in American art history with that decision, for it was Sharp who showed Wood (on a car ride) the iconic house, located in Eldon, that became the background for the masterpiece, American Gothic (1930).

The satellite art center opened Sunday, August 3, 1930 and was, by all accounts, a success. Rowan later selected Sharp as one of four Iowa men to study, all expenses paid, with a noted watercolor painter at the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery (1931). Sharp maintained his friendship with Wood, was accepted to study at the Stone City art colony (1932), and soon determined that he wanted to pursue studies on the east coast. An area benefactor, Carol M. Sax of Ottumwa (Iowa), paid John's tuition to the Art Students League of New York (NYC). Sharp was also enrolled at the National Academy of Design (NYC) and the Greenwich Pottery School (NYC), exploring painting and ceramics. While a student (1932-1934), Sharp met his lifelong companion, the artist Paul Crosthwaite. In 1935, the pair relocated to New Hope, Pennsylvania, where they became immediately involved with local art and theater efforts, including the founding of the Bucks County Playhouse (1939). Their home served as a center for the arts, and both men operated personal studios on the property.

Ever mindful of his Iowa beginnings, Sharp was awarded the WPA mural commission for the Bloomfield, Iowa post office. Installed in December 1939 and known as "Autumn in Iowa," the panels depicted a fall, farm scene. A second WPA mural project, placed in the Rockwell City (IA) post office, "Summer" (or "Imaginary Farm") features a family gathering berries and watering geese as part of their seasonal chores; Sharp completed the commission in December 1940. His last, Fine Arts Section assignment was "Hunters," a mural for the Hawarden, Iowa post office; the work's installation occurred in May 1942. Soon thereafter, Sharp began a series of appearances in major exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (1949, 1951), the National Academy of Design (1949), and had several one-man exhibitions, including shows at the Milch Galleries (NYC, 1952) and the Woodmere Art Gallery (Philadelphia, 1953). He exhibited at the Iowa Art Salon, the Little Gallery (Cedar Rapids, IA), the Corcoran Museum of Art (Washington, D.C.), and the Detroit Museum (MI). In New York City, his works were displayed at Radio City, the New York City Galleries, the Municipal Art Galleries, and Studio Guild Galleries.

After 1945, Sharp and Crosthwaite purchased additional properties in Palm Beach, Florida, and on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. In both locations, the men maintained studios and continued to teach art. The two master painters frequently visited Bucks County, but by 1955, primarily lived in Florida, spending their summers on the east coast. While living in Palm Beach, Sharp died in November 1966. Retrospectives of his career later occurred in several states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri, and Iowa.