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2008 Catalog > 29. Dickerson, Church at Canyoncito

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29. William Dickerson. “Church at Canyoncito,” 1942. Lithograph. Image size: 8 3/4 x 11 3/4". Frame size: 17 1/4 x 20". Signed and dated by artist in pencil at l. r. Titled by artist in pencil at l. l. Printed by George C. Miller, New York. Fine. Beautiful presentation in custom hand-rubbed frame.

Price: SOLD.

This luminous lithograph by the Kansas regionalist painter William R. Dickerson (1904–1972) depicts the quaint, little, red-roofed church of Nuestra Señora de la Luz in the village of Cañoncito, New Mexico. Cañoncito is located about 12 miles southeast of Santa Fe in Apache Canyon, once a narrow wagon gap on the Santa Fe Trail and the site of the first battle of the Civil War in New Mexico. The tiny adobe church, built in the 1880s, has attracted artists and photographers for decades. With its picturesque location, diminutive size, and churchyard cemetery, Nuestra Señora de la Luz has represented for many artists something quintessential about the rural heritage of Northern New Mexico embodied in the simple rustic churches of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Dickerson was, above all, an artist dedicated to capturing the sense of place, and as with many artists of his generation, he had a special attraction to New Mexico. “Part of New Mexico’s allure [especially for artists in Kansas],” writes Bill North, “was practical and economical—the geographic proximity of Kansas to New Mexico and the relatively reasonable cost of travel and lodging made the art centers of Taos and Santa Fe popular destinations for artists working in the lean years of the 1930s. Also, many artists in Kansas . . . found a certain familiarity in New Mexico’s broad treeless vistas, profuse light, dramatic topography, and desert vegetation.”

Dickerson was born in El Dorado, Kansas, in 1904. Two years later, his family moved to Wichita where Dickerson lived for the rest of his life, leaving only briefly (1926–1930) to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. Dickerson had been encouraged by his mentor, the Wichita printmaker C. A. Seward, to seek out the noted printer and artist Bolton Brown, who was a distinguished member of the institute’s faculty. Dickerson took a class in lithography from Brown during his final year at the institute and so distinguished himself that he was asked to take Brown’s place when the latter departed the following year. Dickerson declined the job in favor of returning to Kansas to take a position at the School of the Wichita Art Association where he served as the organization’s director and guiding force until his retirement in 1971.

The association became one of the most important art centers in the region, attracting painters and printmakers nationwide, the most significant among them B. J. O. Nordfeldt, with whom Dickerson formed a close association. In 1931, Dickerson visited the studios of Nordfeldt and Walter Ufer in Santa Fe and made a return trip to the Southwest the next year. He was so taken with the landscape and its humble byways that in 1938 he and his family began spending a portion of every summer in New Mexico. During the first summer, Dickerson sketched the church in Cañoncito, an early depiction of the motif that he would return to four years later when he produced the lithograph offered here. In 1942, when he was invited to create an annual gift print for the Prairie Print Makers, the Kansas print club founded in Lindsborg, Kansas, by Birger Sandzen and Dickerson’s mentor Seward in 1931, he chose the church at Cañoncito as his subject.

The Prairie Print Makers society was created to further the interest of printmaking and collecting among both artists and the public. Following the initial meeting of the eight charter members, the group nominated Dickerson as the first artist to join the new organization. To promote printmaking as an art form, the organization commissioned one print each year from a member artist for distribution to associate members (those who collected prints as opposed to those who made them). Dickerson’s Church at Canyoncito was the twelfth gift print and the second to have a New Mexico theme. Printed by the renowned New York lithographer George C. Miller in an edition of 200, Church at Canyoncito is one of Dickerson’s finest and most evocative lithographs. The church in profile is nestled against the dark valley of Apache Canyon, its brightly illuminated roof contrasting sharply with a range of richly inked grays and blacks of the surrounding hills. Dickerson here sought to capture the characteristic forms of the New Mexico landscape with “light, shade, shapes, colors and textures that [are the] combined products of man and nature,” and he succeeds admirably.

Refs.: Clinton Adams, Printmaking in New Mexico, 1880–1990 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991), pp. 16–17 (illus.); Bill North, ed., The Regionalist Vision of William Dickerson (Manhattan: The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, 1997), pp. 8–14, drawing illus. on p. 14, print on p. 40; Barbara Thompson O’Neill and George C. Foreman, The Prairie Print Makers (Wichita: Gallery Ellington, 1984), pp. 3–6, 41, 60 (illus.).

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