Oil Paintings by D. Wynne Nixon – “Old Town Cordelia in a New Light”


Please click on a painting, and the audio button, to view the slideshow. Also, scroll down to the bottom for a brief history of this interesting town and a description of the art show.

“Old Cordelia in a New Light”

All towns have a story to tell. The story of Old Town Cordelia is poignant in how it uniquely represents all the quintessential elements of California history and the American West. Cordelia’s history embodies California’s important moments rolled into one disappearing ghost town that has somehow escaped the pages of history…the elusive lost California mission (Santa Eulalia), an embarcadero, Native Americans, the gold rush, pioneers, the Pony Express, cowboys, Victorians, mining, the Transcontinental Railroad, first wineries, the depression, a great fire, autos, and finally, a ghost town all wrapped into one small location.  Where is this historical information documented?  The answer is nowhere…until now…in the artwork of a painter who recognized a diamond in the rough. The artist took the time to  paint the town in order to show Californians what they missed if they blinked too fast behind the wheel on their way thru this forgotten hamlet at the intersection of Highways 80, 680, and 12 in Solano County.  Due to the efforts of this plein air painter, we have the opportunity to see Old Cordelia in a new light.

The artist, D. Wynne Nixon, who resides in Old Cordelia, CA, noticed after moving in that the deed to the new house stated that the property’s land bordered the Cordelia Wine Company.  Nixon discovered the ruins of the winery next door, built in 1880, and as a result, started to ask around and research the towns history from elderly residents.  Nixon was then troubled to find out that Caltrans had put Cordelia on the California Register of Historical Resources in 1979, but that the City of Farfield repressed the information to plan a new highway over the dilapidated town.  As a result, Nixon requested the Art Council of the City of Fairfield for a grant to paint the historical structures in Cordelia. With this grant in hand, Nixon created a series of 60 paintings to share with the locals this treasure trove of American pride. The inspiring result was that the federal government, thru the Solano Transportation Authority, realized the benefit of such a resource, and granted the funds for a historical walking path to commemorate this tiny village for posterity.  The highway over the town was never built due to the efforts of the towns people and the public awareness of the history thru Nixon’s art shows.

The works of the Cordelia paintings display a great passion for paint. Rustic, skillful brushwork delicately exaggerates color, and light, with a compassion for the old souls whose hard work created the time worn structures.  With care, the artist researched old black and white photos of Cordelia’s foggy past ignored to illuminate it’s history. Many of the photos were given to the Nixon by residents who peered over the artist’s shoulder while she painted in plein air. With a clear display next to each painting of a structure,  a small 8”x10” black and white antique photo of it, with a brief written history, draws in fascinated viewers.  Thus, the exhibit provides an interesting glimpse into the “then and now” contrast of past and present jolting the viewer forwards and back again, in a powerful journey.  The viewers can then go to the town of Cordelia to find where the old building stood and where Nixon created the new painting on sight.

Though these charmingly forthright paintings of Cordelia display a colloquial town, it makes the viewer smile because it could be any small town…or their own hometown. It’s rarity becomes everyone’s common ground, stirring up the roots of the heart. The show brings to earth the glory of the common, in such a way that it becomes a nostalgic piece of special folklore, readily identifiable to all. The power of this show is in the simple way that it is straight-forwardly painted in a literal manner…showing America at its finest.

25 thoughts on “Cordelia

  1. The house you list as “Victorian Rose” resembles in some way the large house I lived in as a child in Cordelia-about 1945-46 to 1949. Ours was white-pillars in front-2 story-had a windmill and barn in back-septic tank in ground in back of house. Went to elemnetary school there-remember Thompsons corner well-walked by it everyday to school. Old house-had barn and windmill -they are down now-dont know if the house is still standing. Had a picket fence – rail road tracks right across the street-. On the “main st” i guess-a few blocks down from Thompsons- Do you know which one Im speaking of? Saw it about 10-15 years ago-bad shape-the tenants there at the time were unfriendly, tho I spoke to a man at the fence a short time. Oh there was a small sort of “guest house” beside it. We live in Berkeley, Calif (wife and I) now-someday I’ll go look again. Fond memories. Today is October 27,2009. Please do email me if you can to talk about it? Thanks.

  2. The “Dunker Victorian” reminds me of “the house” also-from what I “know”, the house was already over 100 years old when my parents bought it approx 1945-46, not sure. They are gone. Oh by the way, when i moved to Berkeley, in 1978, I didnt have a car at the time, but i actually hitch-hiked to Coredelia. A young lady picked me up and we saw it together after I told her why i was going there. When i saw the old house-I cried. There were large loud, mean looking dogs in the yard so I couldnt knock on that door-BUT ALSO in that little “guest house” right next door on the same property-away from the dogs though-I DID knock on the door-a little old lady answered and I explained who I was, She said “wait please”, went back in and came out with a paper-it was the deed to the house–with my parents name on it. She actually knew my parents. I think she bought the house from them and she sold the big house eventually, but continued to live in the small house. I’m sure she is also “gone” by now-she looked about 80 when I saw her in ’78. It was years later I went back again to see the house, but that guest house was “gone”, so i dont know what happend to that lady. The house did look like it was about ready to fall down. I really “need” to go back once more.

    1. Hi Tony…Thanks for sharing those memories. I am glad that the paintings helped you remember those things and that you could relate to the art work. Old Town Cordelia has been pretty much left in its original state. The sad thing is that the old buildings have fallen down and either don’t get rebuilt or an unappealing structure that is not consistent with the local architecture replaces it. I have tried really hard to raise awareness for the fascinating history of Cordelia that goes back to the California Mission days and also the California Gold Rush. I have had several art shows which I hope have helped people to see Cordelia in a new light. Back in 2000, I was on a Cordelia Area Task Force to improve the whole area of Cordelia around Fairfield, and I represented Old Town Cordelia since I lived there. I suggested in a report to the Fairfield City Council and the Solano County Supervisers to build an historical walking path through Cordelia lined with historical markers, “Welcome to Old Cordelia ” signs, palm trees, old street lights, etc. I was hoping it would inspire people to treasure this amazing historical resource that we have here in California. Afterall, Cordeia had 46 structures on the California Register of Historical Resources and they also have the distinction of being eligible for the National Historical Register. (Cordelia at one point had four Victorian Hotels, five saloons, a general store, schoolhouse, post office, library, blacksmith, a port, the Cordelia Winery, a train depot and much more…it was a big town back then with gunfights, train robberies, mining) I was happy to hear that the Solano County Planning Department has received grant money to actually start constructing this pathway in the fall of next year. Most of all, I was extremely happy to hear that because at one point there were suggestions to build a highway through Cordelia which would have ruined it. Luckily, that never happened! So, I hope we can all work together to save this special town for posterity and as a tribute to the pioneers who worked so hard to make our country what it is today. My only regret is that I was not able to help save the Cordelia Schoolhouse that was on Ritchie Road. I was shocked when the local government, David Cliche in Planning, worked to have the building demolished. I believe this was done out of sheer ignorance, pride, and greed. As far as I am concerned, it was done illegally because I could have paid to have it moved to my property and to preserve it, or buy it and preserve it. That incident really caused me to lose heart in the local government and the population that everyone could just stand by and watch that happen. I was deeply saddened, shocked, and discouraged. I had wanted to turn it into a little art school for children. What a benefit it would have been to our community!! It would have made it unique, a point of destination, plus a sign of beauty and hope. The old schoolhouse, built in 1870, was irreplaceable. It was a tremendous loss to our community. I sure hope things get better around there, and the community works together to have pride in the wonderful resource that they have in Old Town Cordelia.

  3. I think I will try soon to go there again and take pictures of the area I grew up in-and see if that old house is still there or not–probably not. Ill also email you any pictures that might be “significant” to me for you to take a look at. I think the elementary school i went to was named “Green Valley Union Elementary” but Im not sure. Thanks again. Tony.

  4. Well, I visited Cordelia, Saturday, Nov 7, 2009. The “old house” is gone-burned down many years ago. A metal fence and an empty field with an old huge palm tree stands there. Sad for me. Spoke with some “locals”. Seems many remember you-Daphne-well. Everyone spoke highly of you.. Visited Thomnpsons’ corner. Met Jay Huysoon, fire chief at the fire dept across from Thompsons. Very nice man. They have 2 of your paintings on their wall-looks like originals. We explored Cordelia a bit-did find some houses you had painted- (pictures of). Was a beautifukl day , an enjoyable visit. Wouldn’t mind “retiring” in Cordelia; I do have my memories. Thank you, Daphne Wynne Nixon, for bringing up my memories. It’s people like you that always bring positive influences in peopels lives.. Hope some day we might see one of your shows in our area. God gave you a great gift. My best to you!

  5. *As to my last comment, the house I lived in at 2091 Cordelia Road from 1945-1949, was apparently taken down, not burned down. My first information was incorrect. Thank you, Daphne. Tony Kweder

  6. *seems I was incorrect about that “old house” at 2091 Cordelia Road burning down- it actually was taken down by the city (or county) possibly 20 years ago from 2009..

  7. The painting are a real blessing to me as I remember my childhood. I went to Green Valley School in the 60’s. Ivanno Paoli was in my class. Greg Guyan’s dad was the Fire Chief. We had some great times

    1. Is/was Green Valley School the elemntary school? I only went to the elementary school there–1st and 2nd grades I think, maybe part of 3rd grade-not sure. Anyway it was before we moved from Cordelia in 1949.. When I visited there several months ago it was closed down.

  8. Unfortunately since these pictures were painted, the old school house has burned down and is gone. The Maui condo for sale building was purchased and moved across the street from it’s location and was turned into office buildings (the only up grade the town has seen). The buildings continue to crumble and fall down. Most of the old victroians are rentals, and the people renting just don’t care. It’s sad, it’s a quaint little town with a lot of History. Most of it’s long gone residents can be found in the Rockville Cemetery on Suiusn Valley Rd. Now there is something to paint! One of the most beautiful Pioneer cemeteries I’ve been to.
    Daphne, if you ever want to know a little bit about the residents of Cordelia in Rockville Cemetery, just let me know.

  9. We’re in escrow on the “old post office” house at 2151 Bridgeport Ave. Hoping to close soon and find your postings so fascinating.Would love more information, resources, pictures, or comment on this special property.
    Also, do you have prints of the original works that you’ve posted?
    Are there any organized people involved in this “rescue”?
    Are there any books with archived pictures, or information about Cordelia?
    Where do I begin?

  10. My Mickelson great-grandparents from Denmark lived in Cordelia and my grandmother and her siblings attended Green Valley School. I have a photo of the house with the family out on the steps. The house looks similar to the boarded up house in your painting. Our best estimate of the location of the family property was on Ritchie road. It fronted Green Valley Road. The house and one acre was sold in 1903 for ten dollars in gold, half what they paid for it in 1883. I’m saddened that the old schoolhouse was destroyed. I would have loved to walk through it.

    1. I just found a survey map from 1898 and found out that my family’s one acre parcel on Ritchie Rd was directly across from the schoolhouse (It was Green Valley Road before the freeway truncated it.) With a location, I can now look for historic photos that might show the house.

      1. Hi Tim,
        I believe I have old photos of that house on Green Valley Road, now Ritchie Road. I saw it in real life too, and it had a small tank house next to it, before they tore them both down. Did you ever find photos of it?

      2. Hi Daphne I replied on the website. I think. I would sure love to see a photo if the property across Ritchie from the schoolhouse. The 1900 photo of Cordelia misses my great grandmothers property. The photo I have was taken in Oakland after the family moved. Thanks Tim

        Sent from my iPhone

  11. I am reserching the Cordelia Wine Company and its manager Charles E. Shillaber. I note with interest your painting of the ruins of the wine cellar. A few years ago I came to Cordelia, in search of the ruins, but could not locate them. The fire department could not help me. Can you help me as to where to look? I think you body of work is wonderful.

    1. Hello,
      Thank you very much for your inquiry. Why are you researching the Cordelia Wine Company? The ruins of the Cordelia Wine Company are on the property of Ivan Paoli. Perhaps get in touch with him for permission to go there. Good luck with everything!

    2. Hi, I just saw your inquiry to Daphnie Nixon in regards to the Cordelia Wine Company. The ruins are on my property, I would gladly show them these if you would share the history you have on it. Please contact me
      Ivano Paoli

  12. Hi Daphne
    I never found a photo of the family house across the street from the old school house. The photo I had turned out to be the home in Oakland after my great grandmother moved in 1903. The 1900 photo of Cordelia taken from the hill just misses the property.
    If you have a photo taken before the building was demolished I would sure love to see it.

  13. Daphne, I am interested in purchasing your oil painting of Thompson’s Corner. Please reach out to me discuss if there are any originals available? Aaron Cohen

    1. Hi Aaron. I am Philip Anthony (Tony) Kweder. I used to live in old Cordelia when I was very young. Fond memories even at my then young age–1945 to 1949. I was born in 1942 but I still retain the memories and the fondness of Cordelia.. The old house we used to live in has since ‘disppeared’. but it will always be in my mind, and I actually have an old photograph of my Dad and grandmother standing in front of that old house.

      Anyway I thought i would comment about your desire for original paintings. There are/were a few hanging in the fire deprtment in old Cordelia, but I dont know if they are for sale or are even still there. I saw them about 10-15 years ago on a trip down there to ‘reminisce”. I think the then fire chiefs name was “Guy Huysoon”. He was very nice , very courteus.. If I were able (financially) I would have made an offer then, although I dont know if he would have sold them to me anyway. (I’d still like to have an original if it were possible).

      I once communicated with Daphne about the possibilty of “commissioning” her to paint a picture of that old house, but alas, I never was able to come up with enough funds to do so. Im sure her fee would have been VERY reasonable, its just our funds didnt work out. I did really apperciate the offer tho. Tho we are a basically content family we just were never blessed with enough funds to “splurge”. My wife and 2 children have been the true joy of our lives, and that’s what life is truly all about.

      Thank you Daphne if you ever see this post.Your posting of yorur paintings are so -so-“-enthralling”. (is that the word Im looking for?)

      (I would still ask her for a painting if I ever could come up with a reasonable offer. She is a remarkable and gifted artist.)

      I still occasionally look at the pictures again and again in this websight, and dream–

      Good luck Aaron, do post if you are ever able to accomplish your “mission”.

      Tony Kweder

  14. Ohhhh the fond memories you have stirred up!! Your beautiful Cordelia paintings have brought tears to our eyes and swelled our hearts with love.
    Our family lived in the Studer house for ten years, raised three kids in that wonderful two bedroom. We were a young family, renters, though we dreamed of owning it (we’d buy it today if it was for sale).
    The house’s poor shell covered in ugly shingles, something as renters we could not change, and the yard an abandoned field…this we could change.
    With some hard work we soon had a lovely yard…we painted the picket fence white again, we planted grass, a garden, roses, we nursed the lilacs in the front back to health. Our extended family came to our house for Easter celebrations and the lilacs never disappointed, come April it was heavenly smelling on the front porch. The added bonus to watering the lawn was the emergence of flowers from years gone by….fantastic amazing beautiful blooms all over and even the rare carnivorous dragonus vulgaris (spelling?!?, we called the fascinating flower the ‘stinky plant’!) no doubt planted many years ago….just waiting for some love.

    The almond tree on the hilltop, brought tears to our eyes and swelled our hearts with love, a view that is so familiar to us, a favorite, almost daily, family hike up that hill. The Rose House a favorite stop on our evening walks to admire the beautiful blooms. Explored both the Hotel and Refrigerator building. The winery was our secret mysterious spot on extra long weekend family hikes…a mystery until the fantastic Cordelia Day!
    We eagerly attended ‘Old Cordelia Day’ …I still treasure the photos I took of the photos displayed on that wonderful day, we were fascinated to finally learn who had built the house we lived in and loved, and the mighty oak tree so young in the photos.

    We cannot thank you enough for sharing you talent… ❤️
    Alicia and Matt Mosher

    1. Hi Alicia,
      I replied to your recent email from September 2018 about the paintings but it keeps getting returned to me. Is there another way to reach you? Thank you very much! 🙂

  15. So the picture of the farm selling oat hay with the palm tree is not old Cordelia with that palm tree there as it was planted in the last 15years o so… that was the Mangels Ranch and there wasn’t working livestock it was a fruit and vegetable farm

  16. Hello, Daphne. Thanks for all you do. And all you see.
    I’ve nearly completed writing a big history of Green Valley, which of cotse can’t be written without covering Cordelia and Capt. Shillaber. I’m wondering where your research has taken you. I know Mr. and Mrs. Shillaber moved to Chicago before 1892, and I know they set up a beach resort at a Michigan lake where the old sailor kept a fast yacht. Do you have some insight into the Shillabers’ twilight years? Much obliged for any knowledge you might impart. Thanks, David Sroaf

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