|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|A member of the Cowboy Artists of America and the American Watercolor
Society, Ray Swanson was known for his Southwest Native American
subject--the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and Apache Indians. He was
especially known for depicting children and smaller animals belonging
to these tribes and for the beauty of their traditional costumes. |
was raised in rural South Dakota and settled in Carefree, Arizona. He
first visited a Navajo Reservation in Arizona in the early 1960s, and
from that time, incorporated Indian figures and genre into his subject
He attended a one-room schoolhouse in South Dakota and
was early recognized for his art talent. His father was killed when Ray
was young, and the family moved to California where he enrolled at the
Northrop Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. He worked full time as
a draftsman and studied aero-nautical engineering. For six years, he
was a civil engineer in Redlands, California, and during that time
married Beverly, his high school sweetheart.
He also began to
paint, encouraged by his wife and friends, and he displayed his work at
the curio shop he and Beverly opened in Oak Glen near Los Angeles.
Gallery owners in New Mexico and California began carrying his work,
and he became a full-time painter.
In 1973, he and Beverly sold
the shop and moved to Arizona where he continued to paint the Native
Americans. He also painted some landscapes and seascapes in both
watercolor and oil and traveled widely in search of subject matter
In 1979, he was named Arizona Artist of the Year
and in 1986 was voted into membership of the Cowboy Artists of America,
which he served as president at the time of his death in 2004. He
was also a signature member of the American Watercolor Society.
Following are excerpts from the obituary of the artist by Dolores Tropiano, The Arizona Republic, December 24, 2004.
Swanson, president of the Cowboy Artists of America and one of the most
poignant painters of Arizona Indians, was remembered this week by
artists, fans and the people whose images covered his canvasses.
Carefree resident died Dec. 17 of pneumonia after contracting multiple
myeloma, a cancer of the blood plasma cells. He was 67.
touched many lives, including people who couldn't afford his original
paintings, but who would stand in line for an hour to get his autograph
at the cowboy (artists) show,' said Steve Todd, a Tempe art collector.
In October, Swanson's painting Women of the "Dineh
formed a huge banner that hung outside the Phoenix Art Museum,
promoting the Cowboy Artists of America's 39th-annual exhibition.
But Swanson never saw the banner or the show. By then, he already was very sick.
was one of the last paintings he ever created, and it hung outside the
museum. He never got to see it, but it was a fitting tribute,"
said Todd, chairman of this year's CAA exhibition.
"He painted and produced a magnificent show, and every piece sold. It was a fantastic show," Todd said.
was recognized and renowned for depictions of various cultures. But it
was the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo in particular that he captured in a
Members of a Navajo family that Swanson painted
attended Wednesday's memorial service at Desert Springs Bible Church in
northeast Phoenix. They followed the casket into the church, covering
it with a traditional chief's blanket.
"He respected his subjects, the Navajo people, and they trusted him," Todd said. "He painted them honestly and proudly."
to Joan Griffith, director of Trailside Galleries in downtown
Scottsdale, Swanson's knowledge of the Navajo people shined through his
oils and watercolors.
Swanson's paintings were filled with
"dramatic light and jewel-like colors," Griffith said, adding that they
conveyed "a deep, spiritual interpretation of ordinary lives."
Like others, she was surprised by Swanson's sudden illness and death.
Jim Ballinger, director of the Phoenix Art Museum, said of Swanson, "He
was still in his prime. He was a really wonderful gentle man. It (his
death) is just a huge loss to so many people that depended on him. He
was a delight."
Swanson was born in Alcester, S.D., and grew up
on a farm. Swanson started painting as a young man after he was given
his grandfather's oils and other art supplies.
|Biography from Trailside Galleries:|
|In the boulder-strewn hills of Carefree, just north of Scottsdale, stands an elegant Santa Fe style home and studio. It is here amid the tall Saguaro and rough rocks that Ray Swanson's love of the Native Americans and their fading lifestyles is put to canvas under the watchful eye of the Sonoran desert which seems to merge with his studio through panoramic windows facing the venerable Black Mountain. |
A South Dakota native who was raised in a rural environment, Ray has come to identify with the gentle people who inhabit the bold and visually stark lands of the Colorado Plateau. His connection to these people is an outgrowth of his own rural roots where simplicity allowed one to feel a sense of communion with nature. It was on one of Ray's first trips to Arizona that he knew he had to chronicle the lives of the Native Americans as he could see that their lifestyles were under attack from outside forces.
Over the years as he has painted among the Navajo and Pueblo peoples, Ray has witnessed drastic changes in their patterns of dress, use of modern forms of transportation and construction of non traditional housing. He finds a great sense of satisfaction in being able to bring to life in either oil or watercolor the time-honored lifestyles that are quickly fading from everyday view.
Collectors from all over the world seek out the art of Ray Swanson. He depicts both the native peoples and their way of life with tenderness and dignity. His style is considered as representational, with every detail clearly visible. His success won him election to the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America in 1986. His resume includes numerous awards and a recent book, "The Art of Ray Swanson - Celebrating People and Lifestyles". Over the years, Ray has chronicled traditional ways of life in both Europe and Asia, but he is still most noted for his spiritual and emotional depictions of the Native Americans of the Southwest.
|Biography from Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers VI:|
|Wholly self-taught realist painter of Navajo and Hopi Indians, Ray
Swanson was born in Alcester, South Dakota in 1937, from 1972, lived in
Arizona, first in Prescott and then Carefree. He said: "The most
exciting paintings I do are portraits of the older Navajo folk. The
lines in their faces show the peace within. The real challenge for me
is capturing the emotions reflected in their faces."|
Born on a
farm, Swanson studied for eight years in a one-room schoolhouse. When
his father was killed in an accident, the family sold out and moved to
California. While he was studying aeronautical engineering at Northrop
Institute, his grandfather who had painted as a hobby left Swanson his
paint box. Swanson "figured if they were oil paints, they
probably should go on oil cloth," but he persevered. After he
graduated in 1960 and worked as a civil engineer, he painted farm
subjects in the evenings and on weekends. With his brother Gary,
he opened a diorama and gift shop where he also hung his painting
priced from $25 to $75.
Swanson bought Indian merchandise for
resale in the shop, became involved in studying the Indian
civilization, and moved to Prescott because of the established art
colony and because it was only a two hour drive from the reservations.
He had become a full-time artist, "permanently under the spell of the
Southwestern landscape and the effect of light on it." In 1978, Artists
of the Rockies did a feature article on Swanson, and both Art West and
Southwest Art followed in 1981.
Resource: Contemporary Western Artists, by Peggy and Harold Samuels 1982, Judd's Inc., Washington, D.C.
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Ray Swanson is also mentioned in these AskART essays: