By: Mark Sublette
Maynard Dixon’s multiple artistic abilities and unique personality combined to create an original American vision and voice. In his Stetson hat and Texas boots, he affected the look and mannerisms of a lanky cowboy, one who cut a distinctive figure on the streets of San Francisco. Twenty-two painting excursions including a thousand-mile horseback trip in 1901 allowed Dixon’s keen artistic eye to capture the isolated but rapidly evolving Western territories and their occupants over a forty-year span. Twentieth century photographers, writers, politicians, Native Americans, and frontiersmen filled Dixon’s personal and professional life: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Edith Hamlin, Robert Henri, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Charles M. Russell, Frederic Remington, Charles Lummis, John Lorenzo Hubbell, John Wetherill, Juan Mirabal, John Collier, Harold Ickes, Jack London, Mary Austin, and Clarence Mulford are just a few of the iconic names that inhabited his circle. Dixon helped pass the Golden Gate Bridge bond initiative and determined the span’s “Wonder-of-the-World” red finish — or, as he described it, “eye-fetching color.” A dominant artistic force, he also documented the construction of the Boulder Dam, San Francisco’s maritime strike, and the great 1906 earthquake. Born during the Indian Wars, Dixon navigated through World Wars I and II, two great American economic depressions, and a pandemic flu, while battling severe health issues of his own—a struggle that came to an end as the first wave of post-war Baby Boomers expanded the U.S. population. Dixon lived a robust life, filled with adventure, struggle, and even despair—yet he never wavered in his singular vision. An artist who dedicated his life to America’s pristine and wild western lands, his legacy continues to flourish in the work of a new group of artists that haunt the distant mesas Dixon loved so much.