Born in Fresno, California, Maynard Dixon drew constantly as a child, documenting the new settlers, trappers, cattlemen and expansive landscape of the area. At the age of sixteen, he sent two of his sketchbooks to artist Frederic Remington who replied with encouragement, marking the beginning of Dixon’s career. After three months at the California School of Design in San Francisco, Dixon abandoned formal art training and traveled throughout the West, capturing the landscape and the people in his illustrations and poetry. By 1895, his illustrations appeared in leading magazines and newspapers. In the late 1890’s, Charles Lummis, editor of the Los Angeles magazine, Land of Sunshine, published Dixon’s illustrations and verse and encouraged him to visit the Southwest to find further inspiration for his art.
In 1906, an earthquake and fire destroyed Dixon’s studio, and like many other San Francisco writers and artists, he moved to New York City. During an era considered the “golden age of illustration,” Dixon illustrated Western adventure stories in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, Scribner’s and McClure’s, and Western novels including Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy stories. Despite his success in New York, Dixon felt forced to present a commercialized image of the West, and in 1912 returned to San Francisco to work on easel and mural painting. During the 1920’s, Dixon traveled with his second wife, depression era photographer Dorothea Lange, through Nevada and Arizona, over wild horse ranges, deserts, and Hopi and Navajo country.
Throughout his life, Dixon made solitary excursions through the plains, mesas, and deserts of the West - drawing, painting, writing, and pursuing an authentic awareness of the region’s spirit. He resisted current art trends and remained committed to his unique and honest vision of the West. “I must find in this visible world the forms, the colors, the relationships that for me are the most true of it,” the artist stated, “and find a way to state them clearly so that the painting may pass on something of my vision.” (Unpublished letter in the Maynard Dixon Collection, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1945) After suffering from emphysema for years, Maynard Dixon died in Arizona in 1946.
Bio courtesy of the National Wildlife Museum.
Maynard Dixon: To the Desert Again is a production of KUED in Salt Lake City, Utah.