Ray Swanson (1937 - 2004) was active/lived in Arizona, South Dakota. Ray Swanson is known for Indian figure, genre and portrait painting.
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.
Swanson 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 matter.
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 beyond Arizona.
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.
"Ray 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.
The Carefree resident died Dec. 17 of pneumonia after contracting multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood plasma cells. He was 67.
'Ray 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.
"It 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.
Swanson was recognized and renowned for depictions of various cultures. But it was the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo in particular that he captured in a special way.
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."
According 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.
Ray Swanson's Awards and Honors
Member of Cowboy Artists of America (CAA) 1986
President of CAA in 1994 and 2004
Signature Member of the American Watercolor Society
Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Ray was chosen to represent Arizona in the Local Legacy Program in 2000
Member of the Continental Confederation of Adopted Indians; Ray was given a Lakota name that means "He Paints Like Magic"
Master Artist of Denver's Artists of America Show 1985 - 1995
Honorary Signature Member of Oil Painters of America
Best Overall Exhibit at Cowboy Artists of America Show in 1994
One of Five Top Arizona Artists, Scottsdale Life Magazine in 2003
Catlin Peace Pipe Award for promoting Native Americans in 1994
Member of Northwest Rendezvous of Art 1981 - 1991
President of Northwest Rendezvous in 1985
Art Council Member, Western Heritage Show, Houston, TX 1981 - 1984
Judge: Charles Russell Show in 1989
Judge: Phippen Memorial Art Show in 1989
Judge: Arizona State Fair Art Exhibit in 1981
Judge: All California Art Show in 1970
Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Western Artist in 1982
Arizona Artist of the Year by Arizona State Legislature and Tucson Festival in 1979
Ten Gold Medals
Cowboy Artists of America
National Academy of Western Art
Phippen Memorial Art Show
Franklin Mint Gallery of Western Art
Five Silver Medals
Cowboy Artists of America
Royal Western Watercolor Competition
Phippen Memorial Art Show
American Watercolor Society in 1991 - Bronze Medal
Two Merit Awards:
Northwest Rendezvous of Art
Swan Graphics Award in 1983
Shorty Shope Award in 1983
Purchase Prize Awards
Showing the single artwork