Maynard Dixon was a successful western artist, known for his impressionistic works featuring southern Utah and Arizona landscapes. In 1939 he left his home in San Francisco for Mount Carmel, Utah - a small town settlement bordered by national parks and public lands.
Sharing his love for people and place, Dixon would entertain artists interested in painting the nearby Caliente Hills and colorful plateaus. After his death in 1946, his third wife Edith Hamlin made sure his ashes were scattered in those hills. His signature logo, a thunderbird, has been etched into bronze plaque that remains in Mt. Carmel to this day.
Decades later in 1998, a couple from San Francisco decided to purchase the home, which at the time was owned by a friend of Dixon’s wife, a successful watercolorist named Wilford Zornes.
“We’re not quite sure why, but it was sort of because we were from Utah, and because we had an interest in Dixon, we felt like his property needed to be preserved,” said Susan Bingham, who purchased the Maynard Dixon Home with her husband Paul Bingham.
They immediately started the process of restoring and preserving the home.
“In the process of doing that," she said, "we realized it was something that we should share with the art world. And so we started inviting artists to come there and spend time and do retreats and so forth.”
In 1999, the Binghams created the Thunderbird Foundation, which was dedicated to preserving and celebrating the lands around it, through art and seemed fitting given Dixon’s relationship with the bird.
“We’re 20 miles from the east entrance of Zion National Park. We’re 50 miles from Bryce National Park. We are 100 miles north of the Grand Canyon, so we’re right in a recreation area, right here centered in southern Utah. For most people, the reason they come to this area is for the national parks,” Bingham said.
Each year the Thunderbird Foundation holds the Maynard Dixon Country, a gathering of artists, collectors and like-minded community members who come to the home to create art and enjoy the nearby national parks. It is their way of loving the lands in a quiet, less intrusive way.
We often associate recreationists coming from outside the state to walk the trails, float the rivers and slither through the slot canyons.
For artists like David Lee, capturing the natural elements of the land is therapeutic. It is a clean, damage-free way to share, preserve and protect lands that are part of the political, environmental and economic dialog nationally and in the communities that surround these lands.
“I love the scenery in Utah," Lee said. "It is very different from what I have been painting in the northeast.”
Born in China and raised in Hong Kong and New York, the watercolorist now lives in Pennsylvania. He will retreat at the Maynard Dixon home during the August 2018 country art event. This will be his second stay.
“Over here in New York City," he said, "I paint mostly very busy street scenes. You know, where you have the Empire State Building, Times Square, lots of people. In Utah I paint the mountains or the trees. It is very different. It is a great sensation for me to paint in Utah.”
The Mason Dixon home, gallery and retreat, like most stops near the parks, are receiving attention through social media. The online travel site, TripAdvisor, quotes guests from California and Seattle praising the property and its national register of historical places listing as a way for tourists to enjoy Utah’s public and national park lands through a study of American art.
Support for Loving Our Lands To Death is made possible in part by the USU Quinney College of Natural Resources, where students and faculty promote the sustainability of ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. Information can be found here.