RAY SWANSON Biography

Return to Artist Page
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.