Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) was a 20th century American artist whose work focused on the American West. WE THREE are fans and one day while we were “retreating” in southern Utah we saw a brochure advertising a tour of Dixon’s home and studio in Mt. Carmel. Goodness! It wasn’t that far away. So we zipped on over. Found out that a knowledgeable and generous couple, Susan and Paul Bingham, had established a mecca in the desert for us Dixonites. http://www.thunderbirdfoundation.com/ In 1938 Dixon had written to a friend: “Big news is we are going to quit Calif. & build us a log house in Utah, far from any large town. Mormons are simple honest farming people. We like them. Beautiful country, but cold in winter. Don’t know if we can make a living there, but take a gamblers chance.” For one week, each year, for the next six years, WE THREE retreated to his “log house” and under the influence of Dixon’s artistic spirit, we practiced the art of painting.
Our first Dixon Retreat was in May 2008. It was COLD!!! We were getting our “retreat” sea legs that first year and made some “field notes” for future reference: bring a blender for our morning shakes, don’t forget the bug spray and sunscreen, warm AND cool clothes, more wet paintings storage, ODORLESS paint thinner (we had a spill of smelly turp in the car), be up at 6:30a (hard for Barb and me, no prob for Rox) , and someday paint a night painting. Fabulous southwest scenery, HIGH quality art in the Bingham Gallery, plenty of rock cliffs for me and Rox and plenty of horses for Barb. This view, above, is across the street from the Bingham Gallery.
Dixon Retreat #2, May 2009. Now it is WAY warm! Location, location, location…the Dixon site was only 45 minutes from Zion National Park. At one time we had a goal to stop and paint at every car “turn out” on the road through the park. We hit quite a few. This is Barb and Rox painting in a wash, waiting for a flash flood to cool us off…lol.
Dixon Retreat #3, also in May, 2010. We explored surrounding areas a little more stopping at Pipe Springs National Monument ranch, photographing people in western costume in Kanab, painted at the spooky “mystery pond” (Google Montezuma’s treasure in Kanab), and saw the full moon rise over the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Every shared experience is still a unique and individual experience. In the photo above, Rox and Barb are standing by the old TV film set for Gunsmoke (series ran 1955 to 1975). We got permission to climb over the fence, carry our supplies a short trek, take photos, and set up to paint in the atmosphere of this (fake) old western town. Light good, temp not too bad…but the wind was unpredictable and kept blasting us. For Barb it was one of her worst “retreat” days. She just about gave up the sport of “plein aire”. For me it was one of my best “retreat” days. I love ghost towns and old wood, memories of my father’s dedication to Gunsmoke, and loved the sound of the wind in the trees.
Dixon Retreat #4. We thought we’d try the end of June into July for some warmer weather. Way hot!!! Except in the morning and late evening. WE THREE got smarter. Barb stayed in the Dixon studio to paint and I got up early with Rox to go out plein aire painting. We joined Barb in the studio for midday. Then we went out again at dusk. One morning Rox and I set up in Barracks Canyon by the side of a dirt road under a tree for shade. Could not understand why a herd of cows began to gather around us. Art critics? They continued to gather, bunching in so close that we had to “shoo” them away from upsetting our paints. We finally noticed that there was hay strewn around our feet. We had set up in their feeding spot. They thought we were there to feed them. Rox (above) and I got lots of “cow” photos that day, I can tell you.
Dixon Retreat #5. The first part of June 2012 was perfect weather. WE THREE are standing outside of the Maynard Dixon home that we stayed in each time we came on “retreat”. Continued our “smarter” regimen of Barb, a studio painter, painting in the studio, while Rox and I got up early and at dusk to paint outside. We gathered to work at midday and then at night we watched DVDs on Rox’s laptop while discussing great themes and solving the world’s problems…as well as sharing the adventures of growing children and the maladies of getting older.
Dixon Retreat #6. The last week of June in 2013 was part nice temp and part hot temp. Fluctuations in conditions just go with the artistic life. The serenity and support of being with friends while working on the passion that has “dogged” us all of our artistic lives can never be over valued. This photo is of Barb and Rox working in the studio. We thought Maynard worked here, but found out he preferred to work outside under a tree in front of a shed by his house. Finally, that night, I set up to do a “night” painting and painted where Dixon painted. My compatriots had gone to bed so I was alone. Night creaks and rustlings, I will have to admit, made me a little nervous. Interestingly, I found comfort in the sound of trucks driving the nearby highway, both of us working into the night.
What influences what we become? Who do we travel with? How are we affected by what we see and experience? It is insightful for me, having arrived at my 60th decade, to have plenty of history behind me to look back on.
WE THREE started “retreating” south. In March of 1996 we drove to Moab, Utah. Thoughts of painting outdoors evaporated, however, at our first painting stop. It was really cold, foggy, windy…and then began to snow. Silly us, we thought going south in March would give us a jump on the painting season. I ended up painting a still life by lamp light in our hotel that night.
Not to be daunted, we tried it again the very next year in the same month, March. It was 1997 and this time the weather behaved. What is an “art retreat” without some exploring? We saw the sign for Delicate Arch and took a hike. Wondered why the crowd dispersed early around us and then realized that we had stayed too long at the arch and would have to hike back…in the dark. We are not seasoned mountaineers and I don’t remember if we even had a flashlight with us, but this walk back became one of my cherished memories. The moon was full that night, the temperature perfect, and the comet Hale-Bopp could be easily seen with its distinct streaming “tail” with our natural eyes. Walking along in the moonlight conversing with friends…powerful poetry.
In 2002 Rox and I drove to Jackson Hole to witness Barb being honored with multiple awards at the Arts For The Parks competition that year. Barb was painting and getting in galleries, Rox was teaching math and statistics at a university while taking art workshops, and I was making a living as a magazine and children’s book illustrator. Divergent roads.
In 2005 WE THREE traveled south again. Thinking we were being adventurous, we stayed a night in Mesquite, Nevada. After scoping out the casinos for something to paint…they don’t even have chairs you can sit in to sketch the patrons from, we turned in for the night. Our room was on the ground floor and we didn’t sleep, what with the all night drunken shouting and swearing and flashing police lights through our window! The next day we packed up and fled to St. George, a much calmer place conducive to painting. We set up in Snow Canyon and I began to really see the beauty of the desert cactus.
WE THREE have a fondness for the artist, Maynard Dixon. On an excursion to the MOA (Museum Of Art) on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, later that 2005 year, we paused at his “Forgotten Man” painting. Little did we know that Mr. Dixon would have a significant influence on our “retreating”. Saga to be continued…
Now 16 days away from our “WE THREE”, three woman art show reception on June 13 in Logan, Utah, my “looking back on” continues…
Valley of Caves, along the Kolob Reservoir Road, May 29, 2012.
- Barracks Canyon, Mount Carmel, June 5, 2012.
- North side of Zion National Park, on a ledge a ways from Kolob Reservoir Road, June 29, 2012.
- Along that same Kolob Reservoir Road on the way to Zion National Park, July 3, 2012.
Often referred to as Plein Air painting, painting outdoors is always an adventure. The act of making art is, in and of itself, a piece of work: where to begin, which stroke next, what color, aargh-the model moved, etc. Painting outdoors intensifies the work load with heat, cold, wind, ants, gnats, mosquitoes, aargh-the light moved, etc. I was asked recently by a fellow artist, who paints exclusively in the studio, WHY I even want to paint outdoors. Two main reasons came to mind: 1. I love being out in the landscape. It’s a way to go camping for a moment (smell the trees, feel the wind, walk on dirt and rocks) without the work of setting up and taking down a full campsite, food preparation in the wild, and going to an uncomfortable bed dirty. 2. Seeing the landscape with my own eyes. There is dimension and color (especially in the shadows) that is lost in the translation from life to photos. I do use photos, of course, as reference to paint later in the studio. I am grateful for what is captured and disappointed with what is lost. Paintings I have done outdoors, or started outdoors, or had a small outdoor painting to refer to while taking it to a bigger size have color and energy that is not there sometimes when working solely from a photograph. Later, a third reason popped into my mind: 3. Why, the adventure, of course. Thought I’d share some of this year’s painting excursion moments with you all. Thank heavens for art buddies to paint with. Life is a rich experience.