"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
May 12, 2014
The Artful Lodger
by Lawrence Jeppson

When I was a kid I might have passed Maynard Dixon on the street. If I had, he would have been the first of several hundred artists I would ultimately know.

Maynard Dixon: the quintessential 20th-century painter of the American West.

I don’t mean action depictions of cowboys and Indians. There were other good artists doing that. I mean humble human beings in various guises. I mean intimate vistas. Although he could paint that great hunk of Western scenery, the Grand Canyon, or at least part of it, he was quite at home painting the adobe hovel, common people, the modest ranch stead, the dry desert, the local landmark.

Dixon’s well-educated mother encouraged his interest in art. He studied at the California School of Design, where he befriended other California artists. He was able to get jobs sketching illustrations for books and magazines.

Clarence Mulford was writing books about Hopalong Cassidy, a good Samaritan cowboy, for which Dixon turned out some memorable illustrations. [In the 1930s Hopalong Cassidy became a string of popular films, oaters. I remember when Hopalong rode into the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo to enthusiastic applause in 1940. That’s when I learned his real name was William Boyd.]

In 1900, Dixon visited Arizona and New Mexico. This was a dozen years before either territory attained statehood, and the West was still rustic. He was doing illustrations of Western scenes. To sharpen his eye and his appreciation, the next year he took a horseback trip through several Western states.

He took his young wife to New York but soon returned to the West. He had decided to create “honest art of the West” instead of the romanticized illustrations he had been paid to paint. Back in San Francisco, his first marriage ended. Maybe he had become too cowboy in appearance and manner.

The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition changed his eye and his brush. He had been something of an Impressionist and had tried a little Cubism. He simplified his style and became more modern and dramatic.

His marriage to Dorothea Lange, a successful portrait photographer from the East, marked a dramatic change in his art. “A true modernist emerged. The power of low horizons and marching cloud formations, simplified and distilled, became his own brand, at once both bold and mysterious.” (Wikipedia)

The Great Depression brought unemployment, breadlines, strikes among migrant workers in the Salinas Valley and maritime workers in San Francisco. These were times and issues he painted, and one of his most notable works, Forgotten Man, dates from this time.

Forgotten Man, oil on canvas,1934, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Herald R. Clark

The Dixons spent time in Zions Park and Mount Carmel, Utah. Dorothea was called back to work in San Francisco, and the separation led to divorce in 1935. Two years later Dixon married Edith Hamlin, a muralist. Two years after that they left San Francisco permanently and settled in Southern Utah, where he painted some of his greatest art.

Years later, 1999, Dixon’s home and property in Mt. Carmel, Utah would be taken over by the Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts for its preservation and the encouragement of the arts and cultural activities.

Along the way Maynard met Herald R. Clark, the Dean of the Business School at Brigham Young University, Provo, and the manager of the BYU Bookstore. For a decade, 1937-1946, they exchanged letters, notes, and telegrams. These were published in a book, The Heart of Maynard Dixon, in 2001.

Clark’s letters are reproductions made from the carbon copies kept in the files. Dixon’s are mostly the originals, many is his handwriting.

Until nearly the end of their exchanges, Dixon always addressed his letters “Dear Clark,” and Clark’s were always “Dear Maynard Dixon.”

Dixon shipped Clark a group of paintings from which the school, to Clark, could chose four for $900. Among them was Forgotten Man.

He sent another shipment of 16 16x20" landscapes at $150 each; 6 25x30" pieces at $400; and 5 larger ones at $400 to $1500. A month later these were followed by 2 paintings, 11 drawings, and 44 oil sketches — $1600.

There were other shipments, other BYU acquisitions. Clayton Williams, a distinguished art dealer in Salt Lake City, says the BYU Museum of Art has the best collection of Maynard Dixons in the country.

Clark wanted the BYU students to possess something by this exceptional painter and illustrator. So a deal was struck. Dixon sent the Students’ Supply Association more than 100 sketches, most of them priced at $3 or $6, less 1/3 commission to the bookstore. Students could take their pick.

The Lonesome Journey, Brigham Young University Museum of Art

In Carson City, Nevada, the largest house in town was the Bradley Home, now known as the Bliss House B&B. I think it is even bigger than the Governor’s Mansion across the street. Mrs. Bradley and my mother, who was younger, were good friends. I think Mrs. Bradley’s late husband might have been the Superintendent of Public Instruction who hired my father in 1926.

I inherited a very tall living room chair with carved lion-head arms that my mother bought from Mrs. Bradley; tradition has it that the chair once belonged to one of the 19th-century Silver Barons in Virginia City.

The Bradley House and the Governor’s Mansion were only three short blocks from the new home where the Jeppsons lived beginning in 1936.

Mrs. Bradley’s daughter, Laverne, babysat me when I was very young. Laverne went on to become a writer for The National Geographic and traveled extensively. She met and married a Belgian textile magnate; they settled in a lovely apartment not far from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

When I arrived in Paris at the start of my French mission in 1948, I had a few days before being sent to my first city. I looked up Laverne. It was our first meeting when both of us were adults, and it was warm a delightful reunion. She offered to exchange any dollars I had, or might receive later, since she knew people who would give her a much better exchange than I could get at a French bank.

What astonished me the most was to find in Paris, not far from the Eiffel, two oil paintings of the mountains behind Carson City!

One of these was of “C” Hill, almost behind our house.

Western readers will understand the designation “C Hill.”

At that time I couldn’t tell a Manet from a Monet, and I assumed the paintings might have been by Hans Meyer-Kassel, a German artist I had heard of who had settled in the Carson City-Genoa area, or some lesser painter.

Years later, Laverne, who had divorced, was working at the Mackay School of Mines, University of Nevada. When I learned this, I telephoned. I remarked how astonished I had been to see those two Carson City landscapes in her Paris apartment.

That’s when I learned the two paintings were by Maynard Dixon.

My discoveries were not finished. In reading the correspondence between Dixon and Dean Clark, I have learned that one time Dixon lived and painted in Carson City, and if it had not been for the altitude (he was not in good health), he might have settled there permanently.

Clark’s letters to Dixon were addressed to 710 West Robinson St. There is only one house on that block, the Bradley House. Dixon must have been there as a lodger.

Old Chinatown, Carson City, Mark Sublette Medicine Main Gallery. Dr. Sublette is a Dixon expert and is compiling a catalogue raisonné. The Maynard Dixon Museum in Tucson is dedicated to the artist.

In the 19th century, the population of Carson City’s Chinatown was several thousand. It even had a Chinese Masonic Lodge. In my youth Chinatown had shrunk to a few blocks, reduce from time to time by fire. This is not one of the paintings I saw in Paris, which I have not been able to trace.

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About Lawrence Jeppson

Lawrence Jeppson is an art consultant, organizer and curator of art exhibitions, writer, editor and publisher, lecturer, art historian, and appraiser. He is America's leading authority on modern, handwoven French tapestries. He is expert on the works of William Henry Clapp, Nat Leeb, Tsing-fang Chen, and several French artists.

He is founding president of the non-profit Mathieu Matégot Foundation for Contemporary Tapestry, whose purview encompasses all 20th-century tapestry, an interest that traces back to 1948. For many years he represented the Association des Peintres-Cartonniers de Tapisserie and Arelis in America.

Through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the American Federation of Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and his own Art Circuit Services he has been a contributor to or organizer of more than 200 art exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. He owns AcroEditions, which publishes and/or distributes multiple-original art. He was co-founder and artistic director of Collectors' Investment Fund.

He is the director of the Spring Arts Foundation; Utah Cultural Arts Foundation, and the Fine Arts Legacy Foundation

Lawrence is an early-in-the-month home teacher, whose beat is by elevator. In addition, he has spent the past six years hosting and promoting reunions of the missionaries who served in the French Mission (France, Belgium, and Switzerland) during the decade after WWII.

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