One hundred years ago this summer, Maynard Dixon showed his work in New Mexico for the first time.
An independent who rebuffed an invitation to join the Taos Society of Artists, Dixon worked as a New York illustrator when his colleague Ernest Blumenschein told him about the new art colony in 1912.
“He knew Blumenschein. He also knew Robert Henri,” said Mark Sublette, owner of the Mark Sublette Gallery in Tucson, as well as the Maynard Dixon Museum. Henri was the founder of the Ashcan School of American realism. Blumenschein was the co-founder of the Taos Art Colony.
“It was probably a good move on (Dixon’s) part,” Sublette said, “because it set him on his own path.”
A selection of about 80 of the artist’s paintings will be on view to celebrate “Maynard Dixon’s New Mexico Centennial” at Objects of Art Santa Fe from Thursday to Sunday, Aug. 9-12, at El Museo de Cultural de Santa Fe in the city’s Railyard district.
The exhibit marks the first time Dixon’s work has been displayed in New Mexico in more than a quarter-century.
Born in Fresno, Calif., Dixon was working as an illustrator for the San Francisco Chronicle by the age of 25. His knowledge of the American West was limited to California and dime-store novels.
“He realizes he doesn’t really understand the real West,” Sublette said. Dixon walked from Ohio to Los Angeles, chronicling the sights through his artwork. The feat won him an illustration job at the Los Angeles Times, then another at the Land of Sunshine magazine.
The editor told him to head east to see the real West.
Dixon took the train to the Mojave Desert.
“He did a lot of drawings,” Sublette said. “He explores Arizona and ultimately heads over to New Mexico.”
Dixon stopped at Isleta Pueblo and ran out of money. He made it to Santa Fe by 1900.
“It’s life-changing for him,” Sublette said. “For one thing, he sees a different terrain that really complements his aesthetic. He sees views and skies he’s never seen.
“This is back when (Arizona and New Mexico) were territories. Geronimo was captured in 1886. The Indian wars were very much alive in the minds of people.”
Dixon wouldn’t return to New Mexico until 1931 at the invitation of Taos salon maven Mabel Dodge Luhan. It was the height of the Depression. By this time, he was married to the famed photographer Dorothea Lange.
“He did many important paintings, mostly in the Taos area,” Sublette said. “He really focused on the land. He was doing it for himself, because he wasn’t able to sell these things. Most of the people in Taos were living by the barter system at this point.”
The cold nights of Taos pushed him back to California after seven months.
The exhibition features a study for “The Palominos,” which became a 7- by 14-foot mural at the Canoga Park, Calif., Post Office in 1941.
Painted in 1930, “Shapes of Fear” depicts four blanketed figures huddled together.
Dixon entered the piece in the San Francisco Art Association Show, and it won an award for “most popular” against competitors Diego Rivera and Edward Hopper. Two years later, it won an award at the National Academy of Design show. The prize came with $1,500, Sublette said.
“It ends up in the Smithsonian,” he said.