1875 Lafayette Maynard Dixon born January 24th in Fresno, California
Maynard Dixon’s parents named him Henry St. John Dixon at birth, after his paternal great-grandfather, but changed his name to that of his maternal grandfather by the time of his September 8th christening.
1891 Maynard Dixon Writes to Frederic Remington
Maynard Dixon suffered from asthma as a child and learned to draw as a form of entertainment that did not require much exertion. By the age of sixteen, Maynard Dixon was determined to make a career of illustrating the Old West. He sent two sketchbooks to his favorite artist, Frederic Remington. The acclaimed illustrator responded to the young man, “…You draw better at your age than I did at the same age—if you have the ‘Sand’ to overcome difficulties you could be an artist in time—no one’s opinion of what you can do is of any consequence—time and your character will develop that….”
1893 Three-month stay at California School of Design
Encouraged by Remington’s words, Maynard Dixon was ready to begin art instruction. Maynard Dixon’s mother, Constance, was sure that her son would succeed if he only had the right schooling, so she moved the family to Alameda, which was only a ferry-ride away from the California School of Design in San Francisco. Although Maynard Dixon would only spend three months at the school, he made San Francisco his home for many years. The school’s curriculum was firmly entrenched in the European Tradition, showing little regard for the advances of the Barbizon school and the Impressionists. More interested in plein-air technique, Dixon found his studio classes confining. He left the school to begin learning from nature itself.
1895 Maynard Dixon Hired by the San Francisco Morning Call as an illustrator
Maynard Dixon began his first salaried job illustrating scenes of western life for the Sunday supplement of the Morning Call. The newspaper also required him to work with the staff artists to provide other illustrations, such as accidents, society weddings, or sporting events. Under the pressures of deadlines, Maynard Dixon learned to increase his drawing speed without sacrificing accuracy. He also learned to rebuff the teasing and pranks that rookie news staff were accustomed to receiving by donning an aloof and sarcastic persona.
1900 Maynard Dixon Visits Arizona and New Mexico
Eventually, the hectic pace of newspaper life was too much for Maynard Dixon. He felt that the only cure would be a dose of the wilderness and its peoples. He decided he would have to “go East to see the West,” and he began his first of many journeys through the Southwest. Maynard Dixon sketched the landscape and Native Americans he came across, in places like Fort Mohave, Prescott, Tempe, Isleta Pueblo, and Santa Fe. Maynard Dixon would return to San Francisco after nearly six months of travel, but the call of the West soon drew him out of the city once again.
1901 Maynard Dixon Travels the Northwest with Edward Borein
On this trip, Maynard Dixon traveled through Nevada, northeastern California, Oregon, and Idaho with fellow artist Edward Borein. Due to lack of finances, Maynard Dixon and Edward Borein were unable to complete their itinerary to Wyoming and Montana, instead having to turn back to San Francisco. Numerous sketches and an increased knowledge of Western life were Maynard Dixon’s souvenirs.
1902 Maynard Dixon meets and becomes friends with Lorenzo Hubbell
After a brief stay in the city, Maynard Dixon was ready to explore the West again. During his journey, Maynard Dixon decided to visit the trading post owned by Lorenzo Hubbell in Ganado, Arizona. Maynard Dixon was dazzled by the Navajos dressed in velvet blouses, bedecked with silver and turquoise, and draped in blankets hand-woven of striking Ganado Red yarn. The renowned hospitality of the legendary Hubbell, coupled with the region’s beauty persuaded Maynard Dixon to stay in Ganado for more than two months. This visit would be the start of a long friendship between Maynard Dixon and Hubbell.
1905 Maynard Dixon and Xavier Martinez travel to Guadalajara, Mexico
Friend and fellow member of the Bohemian Club (a San Franciscan society of like-minded artists and intellectuals), Xavier Martinez, invited Maynard Dixon to accompany him on a painting trip to Guadalajara. The two spent two months cavorting and painting in Mexico, followed by a brief stay in Ganado.
1905 Maynard Dixon Marries Lillian West Toby on May 7th
Upon return from Ganado, Maynard Dixon was married in Los Angeles to Lillian West Toby. Their honeymoon would be postponed, as Maynard Dixon left for Nevada to illustrate mining towns for Cosmopolitan magazine immediately after their return to San Francisco.
1906 Earthquake—Maynard Dixon’s studio destroyed
The infamous San Francisco earthquake rocked the city on April 18th, 1906. Broken gas lines ignited the twisted rubble, and busted water mains prevented many of the fires from being extinguished. Maynard Dixon and wife Lillian rushed to the studio, but were unable to save much. They carried away some of the western artifacts Maynard Dixon had collected and some of his most important sketchbooks. The fire eventually consumed the studio, taking many Navajo rugs,Maynard Dixon’s library, and all of his canvases. Maynard Dixon later made a sketch of himself, laden with rugs and artifacts, rushing from the blaze. Maynard Dixon also illustrated the cover of a special issue of Sunset magazine: The Spirit of the City rising above the ashes of San Francisco, cradling a vision of a reborn cityscape.
1907 Southern Pacific Railroad murals painted by Maynard Dixon
San Francisco’s art climate suffered during the rebuilding phase that followed the 1906 earthquake. Maynard Dixon sought commissions elsewhere, and he agreed to paint his first murals, four lunette-shaped canvases for the new train depot in Tucson, Arizona. The panels depict scenes characteristic of the Southwest: The Cattleman, The Apache, The Prospector, and Irrigation. Maynard Dixon painted them in San Francisco and traveled to Tucson for installation.
1908Maynard Dixon and Lillian move to New York
Seeking greater opportunities in the East, Maynard Dixon decided to try New York. Maynard Dixon was immediately successful, receiving commissions for magazine and book illustrations. Maynard Dixon also was well-accepted into the social scene, meeting western artists such as Charlie Russell and personalities like Buffalo Bill Cody.
1909 Idaho and Montana Flathead Reservation
In the spring, Maynard Dixon received an invitation to visit the northern plains to see the Native Americans and to join a cattle drive. Although favoring the realistic appearance known to illustration, Maynard Dixon began to experiment with a looser style.
1910 Maynard Dixon’s Daughter Constance born
Constance Dixon, named after Maynard Dixon’s mother, was born in October. Maynard Dixon and Lillian (who was suffering from bouts of despondency and heavy drinking), had moved to the suburb of Nepperham, New York, to seek solace from the stresses of the city.
1911 Maynard Dixon Elected to the New York Society of Illustrators
Maynard Dixon became an important member of New York’s art community at a time when the Traditionalists were under increasing attack by those promoting a “modern art.” Among Maynard Dixon’s friends was Robert Henri, founder of the “Ashcan School” and organizer of the Independent Artists Exhibition. This year also saw further deterioration of Maynard Dixon’s marriage to Lillian and the beginning of a relationship with playwright Sophie Treadwell.
1912 Maynard Dixon Paints murals for McClaughry’s Indian Hall and Jinks Room
European Modernism had no appeal for Maynard Dixon. Yearning for “his” West, Maynard Dixon decided to leave New York. Rejecting Ernest L. Blumenschein’s invitation to join the Taos Society of Artists in New Mexico, Maynard Dixon and family instead returned to San Francisco, where he began to realize his goal as a serious painter. Anita Baldwin McClaughry commissioned Maynard Dixon to paint murals for her mansion near Pasadena. Maynard Dixon saw this as a turning point in his career.
1915 Maynard Dixon Awarded Bronze Medal Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco
Maynard Dixon’s work was exhibited alongside a survey of American and European art in the Exhibitions Palace of Fine Arts—11,400 works in all. Like the effect the Armory Show of 1913 had on New York artists, the Pan-Pacific Exhibition exposed California artist to the styles of the European avant-garde. Maynard Dixon would incorporate the coloration of the impressionists into his own style.
1917 Lillian and Maynard Dixon divorce
After several attempts to “cure” Lillian’s alcoholism, including a drying-out period in Arizona, Maynard Dixon was no longer able to continue with his marriage. Their daughter, Constance, was placed in a boarding school while Lillian underwent treatment for her illness. Constance would remain with her mother for a short time, but then left to live with her father. During this difficult period, Maynard Dixon retreated to Montana, his poetry, and his painting.
1920 Maynard Dixon Marries Dorothea Lange
Introduced by mutual friend Imogen Cunningham and her husband, Roi Partridge, the young photographer Dorothea Lange and Maynard Dixon were wed on March 21st, only months after meeting each other.
1922 Maynard Dixon and Lange travel to Arizona
Enjoying the hospitality of John and Louisa Wetherill, Maynard Dixon and Lange stayed on the Navajo reservation of Arizona for four months. Upon return to San Francisco, Maynard Dixon began to paint scenes of this land from his sketches. Maynard Dixon explored the emotional intensity of clouds and sky in these paintings, and he carefully chose his palette to simulate the visual impact of the region.
1923 Maynard Dixon Exhibits at National Academy of Design, New York
Maynard Dixon’s Desert Shepherdess and The Ancients were accepted for the Academy’s winter exhibition. While in New York, Maynard Dixon and Lange saw a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit and got a taste of the world created by Alfred Stieglitz. Maynard Dixon commented that the “hot-house art atmosphere” was not for him, and that he was “glad to quit that stale-air existence and come West.”
1923 Maynard Dixon and Lange accompany Anita Baldwin to Walpi Reservation
Baldwin, now divorced, was a continuos patron of Dixon’s. During her annual buying trip to his studio, Baldwin invited the couple to join her on a two-month visit to the Hopi reservation at Walpi, Arizona. The Baldwin entourage was so extravagant that visitors who came to see the Hopi snake dance took photos of her lavish tents instead. Lange returned with Baldwin at the end of two months, but Maynard Dixon remained another four, living with, and painting, the Hopi.
1925 Daniel Rhodes Dixon born
Lange gave birth to Daniel on May 15th. This prolific period also gave birth to some of Maynard Dixon’s best-known canvases.
1928 John Eaglefeather Dixon born
Upon receiving the message that Lange had given birth to their second son, Maynard Dixon was said to have exclaimed, “Good News!” In fact, the baby’s original name was John Goodnews Dixon, but his middle name was changed sometime later.
1929 Maynard Dixon Paints murals for the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix
Commissioned by Arthur Chase McArthur (the Biltmore architect and former student of Frank Lloyd Wright), Maynard Dixon made a trip with Lange to Phoenix to make the designs for the mural at the hotel. Maynard Dixon completed the painted panel in his San Francisco studio. While in Phoenix, Maynard Dixon painted desert scenes and experimented with Cubist techniques.
1931 Maynard Dixon, Lange, and sons visit Rancho de Taos
Lent studio space by Mabel Dodge Luhan, Maynard Dixon and family set up house in Rancho de Taos, New Mexico for the summer of 1931. Inspired by the clouds forming over the Sangre de Christo mountains, he painted the New Mexican landscape with an eye for its dramatic contrasts. Maynard Dixon also spend time exploring and sketching the pueblos of northern New Mexico. As winter approached, the family’s finances were almost depleted. After a bitter-cold Christmas, the family returned to California in January, 1932.
1933 Maynard Dixon Takes a trip to Zion National Park
To escape the pressures of life during the depression, Maynard Dixon and his family journeyed to Utah in June. After boarding the boys with a Mormon family in Tocquerville, Maynard Dixon and Lange explored Zion National Park for two months, camping along the Virgin River and staying with Mormon families in small towns. While Maynard Dixon felt that Zion’s beauty did not equal that of Canyon de Chelly, he nonetheless painted over forty canvases during this time.
1934 Maynard Dixon begins painting his “Forgotten Man” Series
Fueled by the ravages of the depression on the social landscape, Maynard Dixon, who usually avoided social statement in his work, felt compelled to expose the human condition in his paintings. Many of these social protest pieces in this series show grim, stark images of men without work, focus, or future.
1935 Lange and Maynard Dixon divorce
In the spring of 1935, Lange met Paul Taylor, a quiet, stable, university professor. This relationship with Taylor was the impetus for Lange to end her marriage to Maynard Dixon. Maynard Dixon began a relationship with a young, dark-haired artist, Edith Hamlin, and he began referring to Edith’s house as his “part-time home.” Lange and Maynard Dixon’s marriage was officially dissolved in October.
1937 Brigham Young University purchases over 80 of Maynard Dixon’s paintings
Herald R. Clark, the dean of Brigham Young University’s School of Business, was a friend and admirer of Maynard Dixon’s work. In the spring of 1937, Clark approached Maynard Dixon with a proposal for the university to acquire representative examples of his art. Maynard Dixon agreed after finalizing the arrangement over drinks of milk in a nearby bar. Maynard Dixon sold BYU 85 paintings, sketches and drawings from the span of his entire career for $3700.
1937 Maynard Dixon Marries Edith Hamlin
Despite a 29-year age difference and Maynard Dixon’s increasingly deteriorating health, Hamlin and Maynard Dixon married in September. Throughout their nine-year marriage, Edith’s devotion and strength provided Maynard Dixon the support he needed to continue his work.
1938 Maynard Dixon Receives Bureau of Indian Affairs commission
Maynard Dixon was notified that he had been awarded a major contract to create two murals for the bureau’s new offices in the Department of the Interior building in Washington, DC. Maynard Dixon submitted large drawings to the BIA that illustrated his feelings on the theme of the murals, The Indian Yesterday and the Indian Today. These drawings were rejected. Maynard Dixon modified the works and submitted alternative drawings, which were approved. The final, oil-on-canvas mural panels were completed, each measuring eight and a half by thirteen feet.
1939 Maynard Dixon visits Tucson
In November, Maynard Dixon and Hamlin rented a small adobe house in Tucson, Arizona. They met Bill Ronstadt, proprietor of a Tucson art gallery, and arranged for him to exhibit and sell their work.
1940 Maynard Dixon and Hamlin Move to Mount Carmel, Utah
Maynard Dixon’s health had continued to decline; he underwent prostate surgery and a nervous breakdown in 1937, and was plagued by emphysema. Maynard Dixon and Hamlin decided to leave San Francisco’s cool, coastal climate and allow Maynard Dixon to realize his dream of interpreting the West. They built a pioneer-style log home in Mount Carmel, and began arrangements to build a home in Tucson.
1941 Tucson home finished; World War II begins
The thunderbird on the street sign at 2255 East Prince Road was the signal to passersby that the Maynard Dixon residence lay just behind, amid the desert brush and saguaros. The Mexican colonial style adobe home was designed by John Joynt, and his services were paid for with a painting. As Maynard Dixon and Edith set up house, they began to wonder how the war would affect their lives, and particularly their livelihood as artists. They decided to run a guest ranch out of their home in Mount Carmel during the summer. While this venture gave them the opportunity to go on sketching trips throughout Utah that year, they discovered that they were not well-suited for the business of running a guest ranch and they abandoned the experiment.
1942 Maynard Dixon and Edith travel through Arizona and Utah
Maynard Dixon and Edith began to divide their year between Arizona and Utah, spending the winter traveling through southern Arizona in places like Nogales, Sasabe, the Baboquivari Mountains, Patagonia, Bisbee, Sells, and the mountain ranges around Tucson, and traveling through Zion, Utah during the summer. Maynard Dixon’s health was always an obstacle, and he commented that he was not sure how much work he could do “on bought blood and borrowed time.” Maynard Dixon did manage to work on his last public mural project, Palomino Ponies for the Canoga Park post office.
1943 Maynard Dixon completes his last book illustration
Offered a thousand dollars and the chance to illustrate one of his favorite tales, Maynard Dixon took a commission for the Limited Editions Club’s publication of The Oregon Trail, by Francis Parkman. The work was extensive, with seventy pen-and-ink drawings and watercolors in the final publication. Exhausted from the project, there were times that Maynard Dixon could not paint at all. At those times, he chose to write stories and reminiscences, some of which would appear in Arizona Highways magazine. Maynard Dixon had much experience with writing, as he had been using poetry throughout his career as a means of alternate expression. Despite his health, Maynard Dixon and Edith traveled through Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Monuments in Utah that year.
1945 Maynard Dixon Retrospective at Scripps College
Although Maynard Dixon’s health prevented him from attending the exhibition, a major retrospective of his work was shown at Scripps College’s Florence Rand Lang Galleries in November of 1945. Works spanning the artist’s fifty-year career were displayed, from his early illustration days sketching to large canvases from his last years spent in Utah and Arizona. Maynard Dixon sent a letter to be read at the opening, since he could not attend. In it Maynard Dixon wrote of his experiences in the West and the silent desert, in which he felt a nameless truth could be found. “I must find in the visible world the forms, the colors, the relationships that for me are most true of it, and find a way to state them clearly so that the painting may pass on something of my vision,” he said. The exhibit later traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
1946 Maynard Dixon completes his last mural
Maynard Dixon’s last mural commission was for the Los Angeles ticket office of the Santa Fe Railroad. For a year Maynard Dixon was confined to his home in Tucson, using oxygen twenty-four hours a day. As he was barely able to move from his bed to his shed behind the house where he worked on the mural, Maynard Dixon required help from his wife and friends Ray Strong and Buck Weaver to complete the project. With relentless spirit in the face of these challenges, Maynard Dixon chose the immense Grand Canyon as his subject, something many artists found difficult to capture in paint on their best days.
1946 Maynard Dixon dies in Tucson
The mural of the Grand Canyon was completed and installed on November 8th, 1946. Just a few days later, on November 13th, Edith found Dixon unconscious from a heart attack in their Tucson home. He survived only a few hours. Edith carried out the artist’s wish to be cremated, with his ashes placed in a Hopi bowl he had long before bought on a trip to Walpi. In the death announcement that she sent to family and friends, Edith reproduced a poem that Maynard Dixon had written in 1935 to commemorate the death of a friend:
I shall give myself
to the desert again—
that I, in its golden dust
may be blown from a barren peak
broadcast over the sun-lands.
If you should desire some news of me,
go ask the little horned toad
whose home is the dust;
or seek it among the fragrant sage,
or question the mountain juniper—
and they, by their silence
will freely inform you.
For additional information and to view paintings, drawings and watercolors by Maynard Dixon please visit medicinemangallery.com
Permission to reproduce photos and paintings in this online catalog secured by J. Mark Sublette. All rights reserved. No portion of this online catalog may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from J. Mark Sublette, Medicine Man Gallery, Inc.