February 28, 2010 – June 10, 2010
Image:Traveling Storm, 1937, oil on canvas.
Space, Silence, Spirit: Maynard Dixon’s West came to Ukiah courtesy of Abe Hays, an authority on Western Art, and owner of a collection of works by famed American artist, Maynard Dixon. It presented Northern Californians with a rare opportunity to view an extensive gathering of small-to-medium-sized paintings and drawings by Dixon that spanned the entire five decades of his artistic career. The seventy-one paintings and drawings in the exhibit were hung chronologically, enabling viewers to trace the development of Dixon’s art and life. The exhibition also contained photographs of Dixon by renowned photographers Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange (Dixon’s second wife), and paintings by Dixon’s third wife, Edith Hamlin.
Unlike many early “Western” artists who were actually born in Europe or in the eastern United States, Maynard Dixon was a California native from Fresno, born in 1875. He developed a love of the natural world on family camping trips to Yosemite and other wilderness areas, and showed talent as an artist in his childhood drawings. During his teen years Dixon studied art on his own before attending the San Francisco School of Design. At art school Dixon soon realized that he preferred canyons and mountains to classrooms. He began working as an illustrator before he was twenty, and quickly gained a significant reputation for his work for Overland Monthly, the San Francisco Examiner,Sunset Magazine, and other publications.
Motivated by a desire to safeguard the diverse cultures and fragile ecosystems of the Southwest, Dixon took his first trip to the Sonoran Desert of southeast California and Arizona in 1900, when he was 25 years old. During the trip Dixon created portraits of Indians that revealed each person’s individual personality, an approach that contrasted with the stereotyped portraits of “noble savages” more common in his day.
The trip kindled a passion for the landscapes and people of the Southwest that remained with Dixon through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, World War I, the stock market crash of 1929, and all the way to his death in 1945. After the San Francisco earthquake (which put him out of work as well as destroying most of his possessions), Dixon moved to New York where he became a successful illustrator of Western novels and advertisements. Dissatisfied, however, with the inauthentic images of the West he was forced to portray, Dixon moved back to San Francisco after several years.
In San Francisco Dixon was commissioned to paint a series of murals depicting Indians, a job that helped him make a welcome transition from illustration to fine arts. He began spending months at a time in the desert and canyon lands of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico, enjoying the silence while drawing and painting skies, clouds, cliffs, mountains, cowboys, and native peoples. Welcomed by Hopi, Navajo, Pima, Apache, and other tribes for his talent with pencil, crayon, and paint, his art became a language between two cultures. In recent years interest in Dixon’s art has risen to unprecedented levels, fueled by four books about the artist, three major exhibitions, and an award-winning feature-length documentary.