Maynard Dixon

Maynard Dixon Home and Studio

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By Dixie Brunner

“At last I shall give myself to the desert again, that I am its golden dust,” wrote western artist Maynard Dixon.

Maynard Dixon : Kanab, Utah Area Guide : kanabguide.com

The People, a book by Carol Ormond of Jack Hillers photos from John Wesley Powell's Expeditions

The desert was Dixon’s first love, as evidenced by the late artist’s famous work. Dixon painted western life for over 50 years. Through paintings, murals, drawings and illustrations, he communicated the beauty and grandeur of its deserts, mountains, canyons and valleys, and recorded the life of its Indians and settlers.

When the famed artist sought serenity and heat relief from their Tucson, Arizona home in 1939, it was in nearby Mt. Carmel, Utah, where Dixon settled. He and wife Edith Hamlin built a summer home and studio in a peaceful setting among cottonwood trees and along a stream running through a verdant meadow. They were attracted by the magnificent vistas, colorful sandstone cliffs and the area’s celebrated cloud formations.

The couple’s dream was to create a place where they could work on their art, and invite artist friends to partake in the beauty of the Utah landscape. Fortunate were the creative individuals who received the invitation and opportunity to spend time at the inspirational property.

The Maynard Dixon Home and Studio is committed to Dixon’s original goal of fostering a new generation of artistic creativity. Tours are scheduled daily between March 15 and November 15, either with a docent or self-guided.

The Bingham Gallery, also on the property, features incredible works by Maynard Dixon, Jack Hillers and others. For more information, go to: www.thunderbirdfoundation.org.

In the early 1870s, Kanab, Utah, was the base of operations for one of the greatest explorers of the time, John Wesley Powell. Powell’s 1869 success in leading the first expedition through the Grand Canyon down the Colorado River made him a national hero. Starting with 10 men in four boats, and ending with six men in two boats, the feat was considered so impossible that Powell returned East to accounts in the press that he and all his men had perished.

When he returned to the area in 1871, Powell was looking for a new type of adventure – a scientific one – in which he would study the people and places of southern Utah, northern Arizona and Nevada.

His passion was to document the language and customs of the Southern Paiutes who lived in the region. Of all the Native American tribes, they were most nearly in their aboriginal state than any other.

Primarily through the photographs of John K. Hillers, the story of their ability to thrive and survive in the harshest environment on the continent was preserved.

Nearly 150 years after being taken, a complete collection of 116 original photographs from Powell’s 1872-1873 expedition gives visitors a rare opportunity to see the Nungwu, or The People as they knew themselves, as Powell and photographer John K. Hillers saw them.

The Southern Paiute Indians assured Powell and his men peaceful passage throughout the region. As guides and informants, they helped Powell and expedition members find sources of water in the desert and locations to reach the river from the plateaus. Powell said of them, “Their knowledge is unerring.”

The photographs reveal The People as skilled basket makers who developed ways of carrying water and cooking in woven baskets. They were expert botanists, who used 96 species of plants for food and medicinal purposes. They were ‘vertical nomads’ who used extreme changes in elevation in the region to extend growing and harvesting seasons to their advantage.

By 1880, with the influx of settlers and miners and the expansion of the West, the way of life that had sustained them and that Hillers’ photographs had captured was forever gone.

It now can only be seen through a permanent collection on display at the Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts in Mt. Carmel. The only other known surviving collection is owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

Through the generous support of Paul and Susan Bingham, photographs from the entire collection are being made available in a book The People, The Missing Piece of John Wesley Powell’s Expeditions, A Photographic History of the Southern Paiute Tribes, by Carol Ormond, available through Amazon.com or powell150.com

Artist Robert Goldman made a series of paintings from the perspective of certain locations and landing spots that Powell and his crew viewed and visited during their trip in 1869. Beginning May 18, Goldman’s “A New Perspective” will be on exhibition in the main gallery.

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