A Long and Sympathetic Search: Maynard Dixon and the West

life ofart

From 1900 to his death in 1946, Maynard Dixon roamed the American West’s plains, mesas, and deserts — by foot, horseback, buckboard, and ultimately, the dreaded automobile — drawing, painting, and expressing his creative personality in poems, essays, and letters in a quest to uncover the region’s spirit.” — Donald J. Hagerty, The Life of Maynard Dixon

Early on, Maynard Dixon and the American West became inexorably linked. In 1901 he joined fellow artist Edward Borein on a rugged horseback trip through several Western states. What he saw changed his life, and can still be traced in the many paintings, sketches and illustrations that would follow.

Donald Hagerty has captured the remarkable life and work of Maynard Dixon in two recent books. The Art of Maynard Dixon is a large-format monograph, and the next best thing to viewing Dixon’s work in galleries across the country. As much as we love this hefty book, our favorite is Hagerty’s The Life of Maynard Dixon — an illuminating biography that is also one of the most brilliantly designed books we’ve seen in many years. Color images of Dixon’s paintings and illustrations accompany nearly every page of this incredibly rich biography.

photoapache trail
The Life of Maynard Dixon is also full of black & white photos from Dixon’s life — here’s Dixon with his wife Edith Hamlin, a noted San Francisco muralist.

Hagerty also documents the more commercial work Dixon undertook. Dixon’s illustrations were featured in several magazines such as Sunset, Scribners, Colliers, Century Magazine, and McClures. To make ends meet he also crafted billboard images such as The Apache Trail via the Southern Pacific, 1917 (pictured above).

It’s a great joy to see the full range of Dixon’s work preserved in Donald Hagerty’s books!

buttesmall butte

This is the land of mesas, laid down in layers of colored sandstone, red, yellow, pink, and creamy white; carved and hollowed by the recession of forgotten seas; their sides often sheer, or broken into strange isolated slabs, turrets, buttes — the blind blunt architecture of a pre-human world.Maynard Dixon

Here’s a short film clip, where you’ll have the chance to meet Donald Hagerty and learn more about the life and work of Maynard Dixon:

My object has always been to get close to the real nature of my subject as possible — people, animals and country. The melodramatic Wild West idea is not for me the big possibility. The nobler and more lasting qualities are in the quiet and most broadly human aspects of western life. I aim to interpret, for the most part, the poetry and pathos of the life of western people, seen amid the grandeur, sternness and loneliness of their country.Maynard Dixon

white butte
White Buttes, Utah, 1944

Through long and sympathetic searching, he learned how the almost imperceptible contours of flat plains rise and fall as they flow toward the horizon and how the architecture of mesas and buttes marches rhythmically over the landscape, swelled with the freedom of a deep blue sky.Donald J. Hagerty, The Life of Maynard Dixon

cattle drive large

Open Range, 1942

I do not paint Indians or cowboys merely because they are picturesque subjects, but because through them I can express that phantasy of freedom of space and thought, which will give the world a sentiment about these people which is inspiring and uplifting.Maynard Dixon


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