The Maynard Dixon Country plein air event has pulled in some of the biggest names in representational painting. But how does one become a part of it? A new program expands the opportunities. 

“Winky,” by Colin Page, 2015, oil. Best of Show

Maynard Dixon Country is a fundraiser for the Thunderbird Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving the historical property of artist and poet Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), located in Mt. Carmel, Utah. But the fundraising aspect of the art show doesn’t fully portray the nature of the event, which strongly advances the approach to art that Dixon seemed to espouse. Artists come to Maynard Dixon Country to paint the dramatic landscape of the area and to be with other artists doing the same. “You are there with a group of artists, and all there really is to do is paint and talk about art,” says Mark Fehlman, a staff member at the Thunderbird Foundation. The appeal of this has in the past pulled in such painters as Clyde Aspevig, Matt Smith, Len Chmiel, Dan Pinkham, G. Russell Case, Jeremy Lipking, Glenn Dean, Denise Mahlke, Lorenzo Chavez, Christopher Blossom, and dozens of other notable names. 

Kim Lordier working on location in the countryside around Maynard Dixon’s property

The evident fun the participants have had at past Maynard Dixon Country events, the compelling look of the land, and the good company enjoyed each year have prompted many to apply. But there is only so much wall space at the foundation’s gallery, and only so many beds available locally for people to sleep in. The exclusivity of the event is undeniable and certainly adds some cachet, but the Thunderbird Foundation made a move to expand the reach of its efforts this year with a second event, the Dixon Camp Out Invitational. Held May 13-16, the Camp Out attracted artists such as Marc Hanson, Kim Lordier, Joshua Been, Steven Lee Adams, Kate Starling, Randall Sexton, Aaron Schuerr, Ron Rencher, Tony Pro, and more. 

Wet paintings and a few studio pieces by participating artists on view at the Thunderbird Foundation’s gallery

“We wanted to create a different opportunity,” says Fehlman. “It serves two purposes. First, it helps support the Thunderbird Foundation, providing a new group of artists to collect different collectors and give the gallery something new to show for the summer. And second, it’s an opportunity for a whole new group of painters to come up and paint and get to know the Thunderbird Foundation. We started with very little money, and only one prize was given — a Best of Show that is essentially an Artists’ Choice award. This year it was an easel donated by Strada, and Colin Page won.”

The breezeway at a nearby motel was a nightly gathering spot for the participating artists for socializing and talking about art.

Many contemporary artists admire the work of Maynard Dixon, and that accounts for some of the popularity of the Thunderbird Foundation’s events. The appeal of getting away from routine and painting with peers is always a draw. But the landscape around Dixon’s property is the star. “It’s the same thing that drew Maynard Dixon to this area,” Fehlman points out. “The whole environment is very graphic. It fit the more graphic quality of his paintings. The shapes of the mountains, the shapes of the clouds, the shadows that are created — everything about it is graphic, with lights and darks very strong and defined. The fencing is iconic, and there are a lot of old, historic buildings. There’s a beautiful bluff face right in front of the Thunderbird property; it’s creamy white and faces west — it lights up like you would not believe at the end of the day.”

Steven Lee Adams works on his vehicle.

The participating artists most likely don’t go there to paint like Dixon. Think of the work of Lipking and Pinkham. “I believe artists like to be put in situations where they are challenged by something new,” says Fehlman.

From left, Aaron Schuerr, Lorenzo Chavez, and Kim Lordier enjoy the camaraderie at the Dixon Camp Out Invitational.

The paintings produced during this year’s Camp Out, along with some studio pieces contributed by the artists, will be on view at the Thunderbird Foundation’s gallery through August. Visit the website for more information.


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