Friday, February 13, 2009

Maynard Dixon, The Thunderbird

Maynard Dixon is one of my favorite western artists. Maybe he’s just my favorite western artist. (These things change depending on what I’m looking at when I’m saying things like this, of course.) But maybe because his work isn’t so seemingly ubiquitous as that of other artists of the west -- like N.C. Wyeth or Fred Remington or Charlie Russell -- that when I again see a piece by Dixon, I’m just gob smacked.

When I come unexpectedly across a piece of art by Dixon, I’m awestruck by the epic sense it emanates -- like the vast Romantic landscapes of the Hudson School of painters, or the way John Ford used Monument Valley as a backdrop for his western films, or how Aaron Copland so zealously captured the grandeur of the American continents’ scope in his compositions (for the western zest of this distinctly American composers’ music, listen to Rodeo or Billy The Kid, both available on a disc conducted by Leonard Bernstein, available at The Spur & Lock’s Spinner Rack).

I was reminded of my amazement at seeing new (to me) pieces of Dixon art when someone posted a scan of a Sunset Magazine cover on an email group. There was Maynard’s mark, in all his glory. It’s not clear which year this issue was published in, although someone suggested between 1913 and 1915, because Sunset took over Pacific Monthly magazine in 1912, and its title is still incorporated in the logo for the magazine. The juxtaposition of bold colors is the Maynard Mark for me -- and although there may be some folks who remember or collect Herman Whitaker (the author whose novel gets this cover treatment), this Dixon painting is sure to outshine the story.

I first learned about Dixon when I saw his illustrations for an early -- maybe the first -- edition of one of Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy novels. I quickly found out he had also illustrated many other books, including some westerns by Dane Coolidge. He later left illustrating for publishers to be a fine artist with quite a career. He became known as The Thunderbird among friends. A century later, Dixon is still illustrating books: A recent Penguin edition of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage features a piece of classic Dixon art on the cover.

There are several web sites on Dixon. is a fine one to start. The site’s page on Dixon’s magazine art is a nice followup to the scan I’ve posted with this post. Also nice is a site dedicated to a documentary about Dixon. Visit that site, and you can watch a clip of the film. Very nice.

You can check the Spur & Lock Spinner Rack’s Maynard Dixon category for some items focusing on The Thunderbird.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Woody Guthrie, Cowboy Singer

Woody Guthrie has been so long and so strongly co-opted by the protest song/social justice folksinging performers of the music industry that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that Guthrie had a presence as a performer beyond that narrow niche. He participated willingly and enthusiastically in writing and performing songs promoting social progress, but that is still just one facet of his oeuvre. Indeed, Guthrie -- something of an icon in American music -- roamed freely among the folk-singing genres and traditions of the United States. One such territory in which he stepped was the cowboy/western song tradition.

During the 1940s, Woody Guthrie performed during a number of recording sessions for Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records. The Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage houses Asch’s archives and master recordings. The Institution has released all manner of LPs and CDs of these recordings, and among them is Woody Guthrie: Buffalo Skinners -- The Asch Recordings Volume 4. (Clicking the link takes you to the CD at Amazon.)

The Western-themed songs in this collection includes some standards -- “Red River Valley,” “Chisholm Trail,” “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” “I Ride an Old Paint,” “Whoopie Ti Yi Yo, Get Along Little Dogies” -- and some songs that may not be familiar to those who aren’t intensive cowboy-song audiophiles. Many were written by Guthrie, including “Ranger’s Command,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Dead or Alive (Poor Lazarus),” “Train Blues,” and “Slipknot.”

All these tunes were remastered for this compilation, and the sound quality is excellent. Listening to these songs puts me in mind of sitting around a campfire by the chuck wagon at roundup time. Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention

The ninth annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention is scheduled for May 1 through 3, 2009, at The Westin Lombard Yorktown Center in Lombard, Illinois. The Windy City has quickly become the largest convention of its type, focusing on pulp magazines and related media. The organizers typically feature a great art show and film program. Another big event at this year's show is an auction of the pulp collection and art work from the Frank Hamilton estate. Frank was a much-loved artist of pulp fandom, and many were saddened by his death this past year.

For more info, visit the con's Web site at this URL: