The Dixons: A Stroll Down Memory Lane!

With the holidays quickly approaching, we can’t help but get sentimental when thinking about how much we owe to the man and woman that made the Dixon Gallery and Gardens possible, Hugo and Margaret Dixon! The Dixon history is unknown to many and we want to take a quick stroll down memory lane to offer insight into how the galleries and gardens that grace Park Avenue were started, and the individuals that started them.

Mrs Margaret Dixon in the snow at the Dixon home –
which now houses our permanent collection
Married in 1926, the Dixon’s moved to Memphis in 1939. They purchased 17 acres on Park Avenue. At the time, Park was a gravel road and Audubon Park had not yet been established.  They hired John Staub’s services as architect and soon began construction of the Georgian-style mansion.  Mr. Dixon’s only request of Staub was that his home be built of old brick obtained from a cotton warehouse that was being torn town.  Like many of Staub’s designs, the Dixon’s new home was influenced by historical designs; in this case several houses by the Greek Revival architect Robert Mills.  The house was completed in either late 1941 or early in 1942.  The gardens were laid out by the Dixons with the help of Hugo’s sister, Hope Crutchfield, who had studied landscape design.  They are influenced by traditional English, French and Italian gardens.  It was at this time, as Mr. & Mrs. Dixon began to furnish their home with appropriate furniture and decorative items, that they became interested in collecting works of art.

The Dixon residence as it looks now

In the beginning they preferred English portraits and landscapes that complemented the design of the house.  Their first acquisition was William James’ View of Venice, an obscure English artist no doubt influenced by the Italian master Canaletto.  They also purchased works by Romney, Gainsborough, Raeburn, and Reynolds.  Mrs. Dixon’s favorite colors were green and white, and many of the works reflect her taste.  As was the custom of the day, the Dixon’s would have a painting sent to their home on a trial basis.  After living with the painting for awhile, they would decide whether they would purchase the work or have it returned.  Eventually, through their travels and collecting experiences, they met the Impressionist scholar John Rewald, who helped them refine their collecting tastes.  Eventually the focus of their art collecting would become French art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Hugo and Margaret Dixon
Throughout the years, Hugo and Margaret were both active in civic and cultural affairs. Hugo was president of the Board of Trustees of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and president of the Memphis Branch of the English Speaking Union. In 1947, he was king of the Memphis Cotton Carnival. Later, he became president of the Cotton Council International. Additionally, Hugo helped keep Memphis on the Metropolitan Opera tour circuit for many years. Margaret was a founder and the first president of the Memphis College of Art. She was also a board member of the Crippled Children’s Hospital and a member of The Memphis Garden Club. (The Memphis Garden Club is who to thank for our holiday decorations every year.) 

Hugo Dixon

Because the Dixons had no children, and therefore, no immediate heirs, they were concerned about the future of their beloved home and gardens. They established the Hugo Dixon Foundation in 1958 so that their estate would remain intact for the benefit of the entire community. After Margaret’s death in February 1974, and Hugo’s fatal automobile accident in November of the same year, the foundation established and now helps support The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, the lasting legacy of two outstanding and generous individuals. 

We want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday and we hope that learning a little more about the Dixons has inspired you to become more involved in continuing the legacy of Hugo and Margaret. This holiday season is a great time to begin or expand your relationship with the Dixon and help us inspire new audiences!