Untitled Document

Artist Biography


Donald J. Hagerty, Desert Dreams: The Art and Life of Maynard Dixon (Gibbs Smith; 1st ed edition May 1993)
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940 (Hughes Pub Co; 2nd edition June 1989)
James K. Ballinger and Andrea D. Rubinstein, Visitors to Arizona 1846 to 1980: Catalogue and Essays (Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1980)
Paul Bingham, Director, Thunderbird Foundation

Maynard Dixon, originally named Henry St. John Dixon, was born in Fresno, California in 1875. He was from a family of Virginia emigrants whose lineage was tied to English aristocracy. Living part of his youth in Colorado, Dixon made drawings of western life from the time he was seven years old. Because he was a sickly youngster whose activity had to be restricted, Dixon was inspired by illustrators, especially Frederic Remington, with whom he got in touch and who gave him positive critiques of his work. This uplifting feedback from Remington ignited the artistic passion for the young Dixon that led the way for his talented career that would follow.

In 1893, he moved with his family to Alameda, California, and that same year, his first illustration was published in Overland Monthly. He briefly attended the Mark Hopkins Art Institute where he learned art fundamentals, but discontent with academics, he left after three months, deciding to travel and paint from nature. He took his first full-time job in 1895, becoming an illustrator for the San Francisco Morning Call and four years later he joined the San Francisco Examiner. He exhibited regularly with the San Francisco Art Association.

One of the first critics to laud him was Charles Lummis, first city editor of the Los Angeles Times, and well known writer who crusaded for western settlement. At the encouragement of Lummis, Dixon had first visited Arizona in 1900 and 1902, and seeing that state, Dixon proclaimed "he had found his country." He developed his own unique style during this early period, and Western themes became a trademark for him. Unfortunately, in 1906 his studio along with most of his early work was destroyed by the San Francisco earthquake and fire.

He returned to Arizona again and again including in 1907 to Tucson where he did a series of western murals for the newly-built Southern Pacific Railroad Depot. From 1907 to 1912, Dixon studied and illustrated with Century, Scribner's, and McClure's magazines in New York and earned honors including membership in the Salmagundi Club and National Academy of Design. During this time of living in the East, he received an invitation in 1909 to travel northwest from an admirer of his work, Charles Moody, and from this experience spent time in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, and in Cutbank, Montana. While he was there he completely embraced the western life working as a cowboy for the C Cattle Company - punching cows and living with wranglers and studying Indians and western life generally.

A remarkable transition occurred in Dixon’s art in 1915, the year of the Panama Pacific International Exposition where the entire West Coast art community was exposed to the New Art. Room after room of colorful artwork provided stunning examples of Fauvism, Impressionism, and the move toward abstraction by French artists as well as East Coast painters. With this exposure to Impressionism, California painters began shifting to the new styles of art. Dixon’s pursuant post-Impressionist approach revealed his search for his own answer to modernism.

In 1919, Dixon met the highly acclaimed photographer, Dorothea Lange, who came from the East seeking a new life in San Francisco. The two married in 1920. Dixon continued his travels and accompanied Lange to Nevada and later to Arizona. His paintings had changed dramatically in the period following his marriage, perhaps due to Lange’s influence and vision. His shapes became stylized and defined, and he was extremely confident in his emerging modern style. He had begun to deliver strong messages with the utmost simplification. Dixon would spend much of his life as a solitary desert pilgrim. He “periodically roamed the West's plains, mesas, and deserts on foot, horseback, buckboard-even by automobile - drawing, painting, and writing, pursuing a transcendent awareness of the region's spirit.”

In our painting, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona, one can sense this awareness. Our painting depicts one of the most spectacular and picturesque areas in the southwestern United States. The taller, narrow sandstone formation, or hoodoo, to the far right is referred to as the ‘Totem Pole’ while the lead formation on the left is named ‘Yeibichai’ (meaning “the Talking God” in Navajo) and refers to the leader of the dance. In the Navajo culture these landmarks represent the dancers of the Nightway Ceremony, the sacred nine-day curative ceremony which restores harmony between the self and the other elements of a complex universe.

Through long and sympathetic observation, Dixon learned how plains rise and fall as they flow toward the horizon, and how the architecture of mesa and butte marches rhythmically over the landscape into the infinite freedom of a deep blue sky. His bold, highly contrasted and sculpted hoodoo forms reign like ancient totems to the southwest spirits he so gracefully honored. The deeply shadowed foreground and accompanying scrub vegetation provide an oasis from the harsh, yet always majestic landscape above. Dixon’s first trip to this area of northern Arizona and southern Utah was with Lange and their two sons in the 1920s.

Dixon and Lange divorced in 1935. Two years later he married Edith Hamlin, a prominent San Francisco muralist. They purchased property in 1939 at Mount Carmel, Utah where they would build their home and studio. It was their intention to invite artists from around the country to come to create fine art and enjoy the ambience and spirit of the area.

"Quantum Sufficet, a verse Maynard Dixon wrote in 1921, gives a vivid picture of its author:

O, I am Maynard Dixon,
And I live out here, alone
With pencil and pen and paint-brush
And a camp stool for my throne
King of the desert country
Holding a magic key
To the world's magnificent treasure
None can unlock but me!
At times come terrible moments
When desire fills full my soul,
And women and wine and cities
Seem a compelling goal;¬¬
But I wake with a start to my desert
And its lovely vistas unfurled,--
I'd rather be Maynard Dixon,
Than anyone else in the world!”

Dixon was a member of the following organizations: Salmagundi Club, New York, NY; Architectural League of NY; Bohemian Club, San Francisco, CA; Press Club, San Francisco, CA; Oakland Artists Association, Oakland, CA; Foundation of Western Art, Los Angeles, CA; Berkeley Art League, Berkeley, CA; American Artists Congress, New York, NY.
He participated in the following group exhibitions: San Francisco Artists Society, 1905; National Academy of Design, 1911; Panama Pacific International Exposition, 1915, where he was awarded the Bronze medal; the Bohemian Club, 1915, 1922 and Painters of the West, Los Angeles, CA, 1924-25.

Exhibitions (solo):

Vickery, Atkins, & Torrey Gallery, San Francisco, CA, 1914; Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland, CA, 1919; Gump's, San Francisco, CA, 1920; Stendahl Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, 1921; Macbeth Gallery, New York, NY, 1923; Galerie Beaux Arts, San Francisco, CA, 1925-32; Mills College, Oakland, CA, 1927; Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, CA, 1928; Biltmore Salon, Los Angeles, CA, 1928; Haggin Museum Stockton, CA, 1934; De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA, 1956, 1968; California Historical Society, 1975; Fresno Arts Center, Fresno, CA, 1975; California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA, 1981.
Dixon’s works can be found in many prestigious public and private collections including: Museum of Art at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT; Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts, Mt. Carmel, UT; USC Fisher Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX; Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ; Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY; C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, MT; De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, WY; Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA; Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ; San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA; The Arizona Historical Society, Southern Arizona Division, Tucson, AZ; The Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, GA; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, UT; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC among many other notable institutions.