Maynard Dixon and Edith Hamlin House and Studio
The Maynard Dixon and Edith Hamlin House and Studio are significant as the only structures in Utah closely associated with these nationally renowned artists. Dixon and his artist wife, Edith Hamlin, had this small complex of buildings constructed between 1939 and about 1947. It served as their summer home and studio during the last productive years of his life, during which he remained very active completing over 200 of his best known works. Dixon is regarded by many as the most significant modernist painter in the west in the first half of the twentieth century. This complex of buildings represents the culmination of Dixon’s career, serving as the peaceful place he wanted to be. A letter from Edith Hamlin to Milford Zornes follows:
“The memorial spot for Maynard is completed now with a trail leading up to the ridge… I had placed the ashes beneath the rock one early morning by myself. It is a beautiful lookout over the country that he loved and painted. The pleasant memories of his friends will be better than any ceremony when they climb up to that spot by themselves.” – Edith Hamlin, August 11, 1947
architecturally, the house, built in 1939, is a two-story log building with a steeply pitched gable roof, stone foundation, and board-and-batten gable ends. The studio, built in 1947, is a one-story rustic style building with two main rooms on the interior; its rustic styling, derived from Taliesin West, is evidenced by the use of natural materials – local, random course stone on the south end wall and foundation and logs along the other three sides; an approach claimed by some to be derived from visits by Maynard and Edith to the Frank Lloyd Wright complex in Scottsdale, Arizona, during their travels in 1939.
The Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts, established in 1999 for the restoration and preservation of the property, continues the vision of Dixon, Hamlin and Zornes with artist retreats, workshops, art events and day camps for people with special needs.
Located at 2200 State St in Mt Carmel, Utah
The Maynard Dixon and Edith Hamlin House and Studio are significant as the only structures in Utah closely associated with this these nationally renowned artists. Dixon and his artist wife, Edith Hamlin, had this small complex of buildings constructed between 1939 and about 1948. It served as their summer home and studio during the last several years of his life, during which he remained very active in his career as a painter and even completed some of his best-known work. Dixon is regarded one of the most distinctive and accomplished early 20th-century American painters of Western scenes. This complex of buildings represents the culmination of Dixon’s career, serving as one of his two primary residences (the other is located in Tucson, Arizona) until his death in 1946. Edith Hamlin, a respected artist in her own right, had the studio built the year after her husband’s death, and used it for a number of years as her art studio.
Maynard Dixon was a product of the West, and he was one of the West’s most eloquent proponents. Dixon was born in 1875 and raised in Fresno, California. The broad, open vistas of the largely unsettled San Joaquin Valley of his youth would affect his artistic expression. “No doubt these flat scenes have influenced my work. I don’t like to psychoanalyze myself, but I have always felt my boyhood impressions are responsible for my weakness for horizontal line.” His formal instruction in art ended in early 1893, at which time he embarked on what would become a very successful career as an illustrator of Western scenes. His paintings of Western landscapes and of the American Indians epitomized a land and a people that Americans wanted to romanticize. But the artist in him eventually “rebelled against portraying romantic notions about the West that he considered unrealistic.”
Dixon first began painting desert scenes in a simplified, tonalist and later impressionist manner. Later, after marrying the Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange, he began seeking his own approach to modernism. Lange had been influenced by the New York modern photography movement. Dixon saw the simplicity of that approach and in 1921 made numerous compositions of the simple low horizon and discovered the power of the marching cloud formations on the prairies of the San Joaquin Valley near the family farm. Between 1921 and 1928, he used an approach called Cubist Realism in which geometric shapes combined with simple compositions made powerful messages. During the years 1930-1934 his imagery reflected much of what Dorothea Lange was attempting to report in the sad, stylized images of the Great Depression and turbulent views of city life. Dixon’s oeuvre is not stylistically classifiable. His life’s works do not fit into one major movement, although they show the influence of the Impressionists, the Modernists, the Cubists, the Realists, and painters of the old West (he especially idolized Frederic Remington).
Not always appreciated by the layman, Dixon’s approach is appreciated by connoisseurs and artists. He was a social critic and a poet, fearlessly painting commentaries on the plight of the Native American and of victims of the Great Depression and social unrest. He lived among the figures he painted, actually spending time among the Hopi, Blackfoot, and Navajo Indians, and living in undeveloped Western areas like Taos, New Mexico, and Mt. Carmel, Utah. His character and his work make him one of America’s greatest modernist painters.
Mt. Carmel Home and Studio
In 1939, after having spent the better part of his life traveling to the southwest from his base in San Francisco, Maynard Dixon decided to make his home in Mt. Carmel, Utah. Nestled among the cottonwoods alongside a small stream by a lush meadow, he and his wife, Edith Hamlin, built a summer home and studio. Their dream was to find serenity, make art in the surrounding areas, and to invite their artist friends to partake in the beauty of the Utah landscape. This dream became a reality. From 1939 until his death in 1946, Dixon would split his time between Mt. Carmel, Utah, where he spent the summer months, and Tucson, Arizona, where he lived during the winter.
Dixon and his previous wife, Dorothea Lange, and their two small boys first visited Long Valley and the town of Mt. Carmel in 1933. He immediately fell in love with the area. The Dixons made acquaintance with several local families Tait, Sorensen, Hoyt, Crofts, and others and he made numerous paintings in and around the town. They also spent much time in nearby Zion Canyon, where ideas for some of his greatest paintings were made. Upon returning to San Francisco, Maynard and Dorothea divorced.
In 1937, Maynard married Edith Hamlin, a noted San Francisco muralist, and immediately made plans to return to Mt. Carmel. In 1939, they purchased a two-acre piece of property with a meadow along a Mormon irrigation ditch and left plans for a log and stone summer home with Ervin Hoyt, a local contractor. When they returned the following spring, their home was almost finished. They soon purchased additional adjoining property (eventually totaling 20 acres) and started making other improvements and plans for the site. They kept the small garage they had lived in while the house was being built and added a fruit/wine cellar (referred to by them as the “cool house”) and a small guesthouse. Around 1943, Dixon charged his sixteen-year-old son, Dan, with the job of building the guesthouse. With the help of a local friend with building experience, Dan completed the log cabin that summer; it was enlarged by a stone and log addition on the north by Edith, probably in the late 1940s.
In the summer of 1942, the Dixons tried to supplement their income during that financially stressed first year of World War II by running a summer ranch at the complex. Only a few children of their friends signed up, resulting in only a short-lived, unsuccessful tenure of what Dixon referred to as the “Brat Ranch.”
Dixon last spent time at the Mt. Carmel complex in the fall of 1945. His emphysema, which had
become increasingly worse, limited him to the more hospitable climate of Tucson during his last year. He died
at his home in Tucson on November 11, 1946. The following year Edith carried his ashes to Mt. Carmel and
buried them at the base of a large boulder on the hillside above the complex and installed a bronze plaque to
his memory. She described the memorial in an August 1947 letter to a friend:
“The memorial spot for Maynard here is completed now with a trail leading up to the ridge where the white sandstone rocks containing the inscription plaque are located. We have planted some native shrubs and plants about the spot. . . and I had earlier placed the ashes beneath the rock one early morning by myself. It is a beautiful lookout over the country that he loved and painted, which association plus the pleasant memories of his friends will be better than any ceremony when they come through here and climb up to that spot by themselves.“
The house, built in 1939-40, is a 1-1/2 story log building with a steeply pitched gable roof, stone foundation, and board-and-batten gable ends. The entrance is set in the north gable end, which is dominated by a tall, narrow, stone chimney and an enclosed projecting vestibule, also constructed of stone. The gable roof over this entry is a slightly flatter pitch than the main roof. The logs are joined at the corners with saddle notches and are chinked with a stucco-type material. The footprint of the house is primarily rectangular, though there is an approximately six-foot extension to the east along the back half of the east wall. At the back of the house, an exterior wood stairway provides access to the upper floor. This stairway has been largely reconstructed in recent years due to deterioration. The windows are all multi-pane, and most of them are double-hung sash windows.
The interior features a living room with a full-height vaulted ceiling with exposed log rafters. A large stone fireplace occupies the north wall. A balcony from the upper floor overlooks the living area from the south. A kitchen and bathroom are located along the right or west side of the house, and a large bedroom suite occupies the back. Both the kitchen and bathroom were updated in the 1970s and other improvements have been made in them in recent years as well. A door on the west wall of the kitchen provides access to the patio and other buildings located to the west of the house.
The one-story building that now serves as the garage was the first building on the property, having been constructed in 1939. It served as the living quarters the first year until the house was finished. It is a simple gable-roof structure with vertical plank siding and a pair of hinged garage doors in the north gable end wall. An extension was added to the back of this building.
The studio, constructed in 1947-48, is a one-story rustic style building with two main rooms on the interior. The building’s rustic styling is evidenced by the use of natural materials local, random-course stone on the south end wall and foundation and logs along the other three sides. These materials are exposed on the interior as well. The logs are laid horizontally, joined at the corners with saddle notches, and chinked in between with clay. The south wall features a stone fireplace on the inside and a stone “terrace” (patio) outside. The exterior profile of the studio is dominated by a full-length clerestory window, which provides light to the interior of the building. The offset front and back shed roofs feature exposed log rafters, contributing to the overall rustic design.
Modifications were made to the southwest section of the studio in the 1998-99 with the enclosing of the rear room, which had served as a garage area, and the construction of a ten-foot southern extension there to provide a restroom, storage, etc. The roof of the extension matches the pitch of the original roof, and the vertical board-and-batten siding complements the stone and log of the original building without trying to replicate the historic appearance.
The bunkhouse/guest cabin is a one-story gable-roofed building consisting of the original one-room log section on the south (c.1943) and a later (late-1940s or 1950s) one-room extension on the north. 1 The extension features flagstone and log walls, multiple windows along virtually the full length of both the east and west sides, and a centered doorway with flanking windows in the north gable end.
The “Cool House” / Fruit Cellar
This small stone building is set into the hillside west of the house, with the back wall entirely below grade. A single opening, a doorway, is set in the gable end facing east. The building features exposed log purlins and board and batten siding in the gable ends. It was probably constructed in the early 1940s after the house was completed. Small stone wing walls seem to serve as both buttresses to the front corners of the building and as retaining walls for the hillside flanking the building. The interior consists of a single room with built-in shelves along the walls.
This single-hole, shed-roofed outhouse is located south of the bunkhouse, connected faintly by a barely
discernable stone path. It has a wooden pedestal and seat, and vertical board siding on the exterior. It was
probably built in 1939, before the house, with its indoor plumbing, was completed.
The “MD” Boulder
Located just up the hillside east of the studio, across the irrigation ditch, is the stone engraved with Maynard Dixon’s initials. Also engraved on the stone is the phrase “HIS PLACE,” indicating that this was one of Dixon’s favorite places. The engravings were made by Dixon himself sometime between 1939 and 1944. The stone is apparently natural to the area, appearing as an exposed outcropping of a larger stone embedded into the hill.
Maynard Dixon Memorial
Approximately 150 yards up the hill from the studio is a larger, upright stone bearing a memorial plaque to Maynard Dixon. This was installed by his wife in 1947. She also buried his ashes at the base of the stone, built a trail to the memorial from the studio, and planted native plants about the spot. The plaque bears Dixon’s signature emblem, a thunderbird, and the following inscription: