The Art of Goin' Country
In its 30th year, the Dixon Studio Tour remains a fun place to shop for fine—and sometimes funky—art.

Story and Photography by
Wolf Schneider

For a remote, rural village where woodstoves are more the norm than central air and heat, Dixon, population 1,500, has some terrific perks. Located between Santa Fe and Taos, it has its own co-op market, its own freeform radio station (KLDK, 96.5 FM, “El Dique”), its own library, and more water than most New Mexico towns. With the Embudo River flowing through its acequias, many Dixon residents boast backyard apple trees and vegetable gardens. (Famed Mayordomo writer Stanley Crawford’s garlic farm is here, too.)

“Somebody said Dixon is the most cosmopolitan village in New Mexico,” said mixed-media sculptor Robert Brenden. “Dixon is changing now. It used to be that land was cheap here, and now it’s more expensive. It was do-it-yourself hippie types before. Now people move here and start doing art. It’s still the most refuge you can get from 21st-century insanity.”

On Dixon’s main street is El Laberinto de Piedra gallery, run by the effervescent Brenden, who helped launch the Dixon Studio Tour 30 years ago. The popularity of the event—they print some 15,000 tour maps each year—has helped Dixon become the art center it is today. It’s held the first weekend of November; at last year’s I found all kinds of interesting art on its three-dozen stops.

“On the Dixon Studio Tour, you can walk around in the sunshine and look into the creators’ worlds. People have broad minds here,” said Zoë Stiler, who creates chandelier installations with collected papers, wire, willows, sticks, candles, and light bulbs that sell for $300 to $1,500. “They can hang in a dark room by themselves where they have a presence like a huge creature, or in a modern house or an adobe house,” said Stiler, who moved here from Taos.

Some of Dixon’s most prominent artists include painter Jim Vogel, potter Nausika Richardson, stone sculptor Mark Saxe, and plein-air painter Clarence Medina, 41, who grew up in Dixon and Chimayó, and now exhibits at Santa Fe’s Arlene Siegel Gallery and Taos Plaza Gallery. Six years ago, Medina built his saltillo-tiled, 700-square-foot, adobe-and-pine studio on a hillside outside town. On a typical tour weekend, he sells 30 to 40 of his impressionist landscapes, priced from $360 to $2,450. “Today, I’ve had people from Arkansas and Denver who come every year, and from California and Texas,” he said. His son Jason, 10, was manning the bubble-wrap station to ship paintings of sights like El Santuario de Chimayó around the country.

Another longtime resident is Iowa-raised potter Al Tyrrell, who specializes in functional stoneware. Tyrrell moved to a Taos teepee during his hippie heyday, then came to Dixon in 1976, when he bought the house he still lives in. It cost just $14,000. “And it came with a horse and dog and a pot shop as an extra building,” Tyrrell grinned. “Everything was dirt roads here.”

Siri Hollander, 51, creates monumental horse sculptures in steel and mixed media priced from $1,000 to $2,500. She lives in nearby Ojo Sarco, but as that town lost its gas station and general store, she saw Dixon growing and began showing here, as well as at Santa Fe’s Canyon Road Fine Art gallery. “Dixon is a community where people know each other and help each other. Somebody’s stuck on the road, five people will stop to help,” she said. “There’s a pull here for a certain kind of people—people who aren’t obsessed with succeeding and making money and moving forward.” As she sees it, “It’s more about enjoying life than about wanting more.” With dusk descending, I reluctantly headed for my car. Amid the orange cottonwoods, I spotted a horseback rider coming up N.M. 75, riding right through town nonchalantly, like he does it all the time. Artists, farmers, hippies, cowboys: That’s Dixon!