American art history includes more than just studying the Abstract Expressionist and Pop art movements that flourished in New York City.
More Than a Western Painter
"The melodramatic Wild West idea is not for me the big possibility. The nobler and more lasting qualities are in the quiet and most broadly human aspects of Western life."
— Maynard Dixon
Who Was Maynard Dixon?
Maynard Dixon was actually born in the San Joaquin Valley of California, way back in 1875. In 1893, at age eighteen, Maynard had his first drawing published in the Overland Monthly, a publication that was founded by Bret Hart in 1868. For the next 14 years, Dixon did numerous illustrations, not only for the Overland, but also for the major San Francisco newspapers, the Examiner, the Chronicle and the Call.
After his illustration years, Dixon opened a San Francisco studio, where he sold paintings that he done from his ever increasing travels across The West. At first on horseback and then by automobile, Dixon spent a lifetime traveling the Great Basin and Southwest deserts. In the process, he created a vast body of artwork, picturing the Old West, as it went from horseback to automobile. Even though Maynard Dixon lived to see the end of WWII, he is best known for his images that portray a more primal and primitive view of the Old West.
Portrait of Maynard Dixon
As a young man, Maynard Dixon had a most remarkable painting mentor, named Charles Lummis. Lummis, who once walked from Indiana to Los Angeles, to accept a newspaper job, encouraged Dixon to leave California and "travel East to see the real West". Fortunately, Maynard Dixon took his friend's idea to heart and spent many years exploring other western states., Eventually he settled in Arizona, when it was a territory that was mostly populated by Hispanics and Indians.
The Dixon Summer Home
Move To Southern Utah
After divorcing his first wife, Dorothea Lange (the WPA photographer), Maynard married Edith Hamlin. Following several productive excursions to Zion National Park, the couple purchased a tract of land with one rustic building in nearby Mount Carmel, Utah. The two artists were impressed by the rugged desert landscape that surrounded Mount Carmel, as well as the town's proximity to many scenic locations across the Southwest. Over the years, the couple added a house, a studio and bunkhouse to the property. This would become the summer retreat that would get the couple out of the Tucson heat.
Maynard Dixon and the Cowboy
Born Before the Automobile
Having been born on a California ranch some 30 years before the advent of the gasoline-powered automobile, it is no surprise that the artist took a natural interest in the cowboy and the horse. From the time that he sold his first drawing until his final move to southern Utah, Maynard was fascinated by this western hero, who was quickly fading into the sunset.
Maynard Dixon and the Native American
As Maynard Dixon toured the West in the early years of the 20th century, he encountered many Native American communities, most of which had seen little change with the arrival of the new century. Take a look at Dixon's paintings and you will clearly see how the presence of the American Indian, not only influenced the artwork of this California painter, but how it also it may have lead to a deeper understanding of the Western landscape and way of life.
Major Changes in the Twentieth Century
When one takes a long look at Dixon's life work, it will become obvious that not all of his paintings and drawings dealt with a romantic view of the untamed West. For during the Great Depression and later years, another theme flourished in Dixon's work. It was the reality of man being caught and overwhelmed by the industrialization and subsequent economic collapse that occurred in the 30s. Not only did the automobile appear in Dixon's work, but also depicted were the welfare lines and itinerant workers of the Great Depression years. Much of this overlooked group of paintings has found a modern-day home at Brigham Young University in Utah.
Looking at Dixon
The Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts
In 1999 the Thunderbird Foundation of the Arts was founded in Mount Carmel, Utah. In the years since, the group's organizers have taken on the task of preserving the various buildings that can be found on the Dixon property. Today, these places are open to public tours and in the case of the bunkhouse, available for short stays by practicing artists, who can use the time to sketch and paint the stunning Utah landscape that surrounds Mount Carmel.
There is also an active gallery that displays various contemporary painters and printmakers, who choose to work in a similar style. And for those, who enjoy meeting the artist, be sure to check out the annual gala and art show that occurs every summer at Mount Carmel.
The Desert Landscape
True West Magazine (Oct. 2019 ) Features Maynard Dixon
Though Dixon died in 1946, interest in the California-born interest continues to increase. No better evidence can be found than in the recently-published (Oct. 2019) issue of True West, which happens to feature Dixon's Earth Knower (featured above) on its cover. Also included is a large feature article, which a large number of reproductions of Dixon's remarkable paintings.
Maynard Dixon's American West
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Who manages the museum and art sales at the Maynard Dixon home?
Answer: There is a Maynard Dixon non-profit that manages the site and takes in visitors to the place. Art sales of Maynard Dixon are practically non-existent, since he has been dead for many years and when a painting does come up for sale, the price is very high. However, there are visiting, living artists, who do show their work at the museum and their sales are also managed by the non-profit, which by the way is called the Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts.
© 2017 Harry Nielsen