Castle Hot Springs, Arizona

In the spring of 1901, the Parrishes returned from the sanatorium at Saranac Lake, where Maxfield had spent the winter recovering from tuberculosis. Dr. Trudeau wanted him to come back in the fall. Although Lydia had enjoyed their stay at Saranac, she dreaded the prospect of having to return for another winter. Fred, as he was known, would have to endure another winter living outside in a glassed-in porch. The winter had been difficult, but it was a turning point for the artist, who, forced by the extreme cold to give up his ink work and watercolor washes, began to work in full color, painting in oils. It wouldn’t be long before his color work would catapult him into the national spotlight.


Desert Without Water, an oil painting by Maxfield Parrish, 1901. The artist posed in cowboy costume for a photograph wife Lydia took for reference.

By a great stroke of luck, instead of having to pay for a winter of enforced cold at Saranac, the Parrishes found themselves headed for the high desert of Arizona, all expenses paid. They spent the winter in a garden surrounded by moonscape: the resort at Castle Creek, where a hot spring fed the valley. Each day, the couple would saddle up and head off on a photo safari in the surrounding desert. By the end of their sojourn, Parrish’s tuberculosis was in remission and he had twenty landscapes unlike any he had done before. In the pure, clear air of Arizona, he had discovered the power of color. Towards the end of his life, Parrish said that, though he painted New England landscapes, the skies in his painting–his famous Parrish Blue–were from Arizona.


Night in the Desert, oil painting by Maxfield Parrish, 1901.

In The Parrish Women, Lydia and Fred spend the night with the other “dudes” camping underneath the stars. The scene is made up, inspired by the above painting.

When the first group of the Western paintings was published in Century, Parrish became an illustrator of the first rank overnight. The accompanying article ran as a serial in three parts. It was the  1902 equivalent of suddenly having an Artstation page with a million followers. A brilliant seventy-year career had begun.

While researching the novel at the Rauner Special Collections library at Dartmouth, I came upon a curious object in a folder: a banner made of hearts cut out of pasteboard. The hearts were strung together with red ribbon. On one side, each heart bore a single, red letter. Together, they spelled out FRED & LYDIA. I eventually determined that this was a gift, probably made by Ellen Shipman, presented to the couple at their going-away party. On the back side of each heart, the party-goers had each signed their names and inscribed a short note.

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Hand-made banner, pasteboard, probably by Ellen Shipman. This one was signed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Note the date (November 2nd, 1901) and Saint-Gaudens’s trademark caricature.

Another imagined scene comes from the following painting. After a day on the trail, Fred and Lydia are back in their room at the resort, discussing the day’s photography. Fred opines that the Indians he photographed must have been from a non-smoking tribe: not one had a cigar on him. This shows Parrish’s racial prejudice, which was common at that time among men of his station. But it also shows his sense of humor.


Pueblo Dwellers, oil by Maxfield Parrish, 1901. The Navajo were probably photographed separately from the pueblo, and then combined for the painting.


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