Maynard Dixon was born in Fresno, California, a descendent of Virginian aristocracy who had moved to the flats of the San Joaquin Valley. Rather frail as a child, he taught himself to draw. At the age of sixteen, he sent some of his sketches to Frederic Remington, who returned them with praise and encouragement. It was suggested that he apply to the School of Design in San Francisco, California; although he was readily accepted, Dixon found the approach to be too formal and withdrew.
After leaving school, he began working as a cowpuncher, wandering throughout the Southwest until he settled back in San Francisco four years later. At the age of twenty, he got his first job as an artist working as a newspaper illustrator, later illustrating for magazines and books as his draftsmanship improved. His drawings became quite famous and were published in the Los Angeles magazine Land of Sunshine in 1898.
Dixon’s art evolved during the tumultuous years of modernism’s onset, and he incorporated its aesthetic while continuing to focus on Western subjects. His superlative skills as an illustrator were brought into the mix, and he emerged with his own incomparable images in his own style. Simple yet powerful, his compositions are known for bold masses of color drawn with simplicity of line. The people Dixon depicted in his paintings reflected the cultural mix of the American West of the early 20th century. He was delighted to live among all the peoples of the region, and his portrayals of the Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo inhabitants are without comparison.
A self-taught, highly individualistic painter, Dixon had great inner strength and distinctiveness. In San Francisco, he was considered a colorful character with a good sense of humor, often dressed like a cowboy and determined to impart a Western style, most often in the form of a black Stetson, boots and a bolo tie. One of his strongest convictions as an artist was that, if one felt doubtful of his work, he should return to nature and renew his vision. It was this credo, along with his ability and travels that attracted the attention of the Taos Society, a group of well-trained and respected artists who invited Dixon to join their exclusive alliance. True to form, Dixon declined the offer, finding their bylaws on which paintings could be exhibited too confining and rigid.
Dixon never stopped creating his powerful works. He was a member of many art associations, including the Salmagundi Club in New York City, the Architectural League of New York, both the Foundation of Western Art and the Painters of the West in Los Angeles, California and the Southwest Society. His works are held in such collections as the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, New York, the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth, Texas, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. In 1946, this master of American modernism passed away in Tucson, Arizona and his ashes were then taken to Mt. Carmel, Utah and spread on the hillside.