I was invited one summer to an artist residency at the Maynard Dixon studio in Mt. Carmel, Utah. It is a rustic place, little changed from Maynard Dixon’s day when notables such as painter Conrad Buff and Vladimir Nabokov frequented the estate. Despite its proximity to Zion National Park the place maintains a tranquility proportionate to the surrounding beauty. The studio itself is a cluster of quaint wood structures that give the impression of an alpine village. Hewn stones form the foundations for sturdy log walls.
My mission during the residency was to do a series of paintings and drawings from which to create a portfolio of woodcuts. There were a myriad of incredible scenes and no chance I would run out of material. The Virgin River runs south through the valley with high flat-topped buttes on each side. Cedars dot the higher elevations with willows and cottonwoods growing near the river.
I awoke one morning and walked until I found a good vantage point to paint a distant butte. I set up my easel, prepared my paints, and painted for a couple of hours. The final piece became the inspiration for the twelve block woodcut Long Valley Morning.
Painting in the field is an art form unto itself. Few realize how incredibly difficult it is to capture the subtle nature of changing light. But good fortune was with me and the painting turned out well. I felt adequately rewarded for my time. As I was breaking down my easel I turned and scanned the scene behind me. On a ridge, with the sun lighting it up like a spotlight, was a small cactus with several blossoms. I grabbed my sketchbook and within a few minutes had the basis for the woodcut Desert Crown.
I was attending a funeral once and leaned my hand thoughtlessly against a tree. When I looked near my thumb I saw a leaf, smaller than my thumbnail, sprouting from the bark. It was bright green fading to red with every hue in between and stippled with a patina of rust. The idea slowly, stubbornly unfolded; that leaf has more beauty than any painting I will ever paint.
Nature is like that. It explodes with ephemeral, inexpressible magnificence. I realized I will spend my entire creative life pursuing that elusive beauty.