MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - With its paintings, porcelain, sculptures and sprawling gardens, The Dixon Gallery & Gardens is a tapestry of bright hues, French accents and Neo-Georgian Architecture.
Museum Director Kevin Sharp says the Dixon is where the arts and horticulture intertwine near Memphis’ Audubon Park along Park Avenue.
“You can take the whole day to enjoy the experience, but you can also take it all in within an hour,” said Sharp.
When you enter the museum, you’re greeted by the expansive masterpiece “The Joyous Festival,” by Gaston La Touche.
“You come in and it’s like you’re almost in somebody’s home,” added Sharp.
The museum focuses on French and American impressionism featuring the likes of Degas, Renoir and Monet. A highlight of the Impressionism exhibit: a rare painting by Theodore Robinson. Sharp says Theodore was one of the few American impressionists who became friends with and was influenced by Claude Monet.
Memphis artists are featured in some rooms to support the local art ecosystem. The museum’s permanent collection has more than 2,000 objects. Among the permanent collection are two Monets. The museum bought them from a Texas rancher back in 1995. One interesting reason they were able to buy it, is because the rancher made part of the purchase a donation.
The museum’s German and English porcelain collection is a unique sight. There’s also an interactive gallery that brings movement and art together, where you can practice yoga or other activities as a fun space to express yourself.
Only a door frame separates the museum from the residence of Hugo and Margaret Dixon. The artwork continues into their 1942 home. Dixon was from England. His wife was from Vicksburg, Mississippi.
“Mr. Dixon was in the cotton business and mostly exporting back to England, the mills there. He was very, very successful,” explained Sharp.
The table where the family broke bread is still there. The breathtaking view of the South Lawn was their backyard where the Dixon’s annual Art on Fire event takes place, along with weddings and receptions.
Fresh flowers from the Cutting Garden, now maintained by The Memphis Garden Club, can still be seen in vases throughout the home.
“It’s called the Cutting Garden because we grow stems that can be cut and they make up the arrangements that you see in our galleries,” Sharp added.
The gardens span 17 acres of wonderment accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The annual Tulip bloom is in full bloom right now with 60,000 bursts of beauty, 250,000 Daffodils and a sea of Azaleas.
Dixon’s sister designed the American-style gardens with a blend of English and French-Italian landscapes.
“We’re not a huge garden, but we’re very, very choice and the bones of the garden reflect the original design of our founder,” said Sharp.
Inside the horticultural complex: A library, meeting space, potting hub, greenhouses and a glass conservatory. With 60 identified and labeled trees, the Dixon is a Level 4 Arboretum.
Currently, The Dixon’s education programs are virtual.
“You could almost make the argument that we are reaching more people virtually,” Sharp reasoned. “They have a YouTube channel with lessons for senior citizens, including those with Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Local schools, that used to send students by the busload, now use the online tools for art education.”
They have two art educators and work with art therapists who encourage self-expression.
“We want you to be a maker and we’re also very much about visual literacy,” Sharp encouraged. “You know, what are you looking at? What do you see? What is it? What does it say to you?”
The museum opened two years after the Dixons passed in 1976. Sharp says the Dixons had few stipulations for making the property public.
“He said to open a museum of fine art and a public garden and to make that museum and garden open to people of all walks of life. Now, he wrote that document in 1959. That’s a very powerful thing to say in a city like Memphis, Tennessee, in 1959,” said Sharp.
The non-profit Hugo Dixon Foundation funds The Dixon and has never received public money.
The museum of fine arts and public gardens is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. For more on the Dixon’s workshops, annual plant sale and education programs, click HERE.