John Hardrick’s grandfather moved to Indianapolis around 1880 to escape the racism around his rural Kentucky farm. By 1888 John’s father, Shepard Hardrick, had married Georgia Etta West and settled on South Prospect Street, where John was born in 1891.
John W. Hardrick showed a natural talent in art very early on, drawing by the age of 6, creating watercolors at 8, and exhibiting some of his work at the age of 13 at a Negro Business League Convention in town. One of his teachers at Harriet Beecher Stowe School was so impressed with his work that she showed it to local arts patron Herman Lieber, owner of an art supply store, who saw to it that John attended children’s art classes at the John Herron School of Art.
While attending Emmerich Manual Training High School, John Hardrick was a student of Otto Stark, and in 1910 he began attending regular classes at Herron, where he studied under William Forsyth. But financial pressures meant that John had to work nights at the Indianapolis Stove Foundry in order to put himself through Herron.