Biography of Ray Swanson

ray swanson

Ray Swanson grew up on the Swanson farm in southeastern South Dakota, halfway between two of the area's larger cities, Sioux Falls, SD and Sioux City, IA. The Swanson family of 6 lived five miles from the nearest town of Alcester, with a population of 600.

Ray was born in 1937 in a country that was struggling to recover from the Great Depression.

The country was largely agricultural then and the Swansons were a prime example of an American farm family with Scandinavian heritage. They had a large dairy herd and were nicknamed "Milk Swansons" as one of the family could be found in the barn twice a day milking. The example set by his family, putting in long hours completing the chores on the farm, forever shaped Ray's work ethic. This work ethic accounts for much of his success as an artist. Ray said, "I am always painting, even when I'm not at the easel, I'm planning and composing ideas for paintings."

Ray's strong spiritual foundation and belief in God's plan for his life as a following of Christ, provided a solid grounding for his life and his art career. An early influence, spiritually and artistically was his maternal grandfather, whose natural artistic ability was inherited by Ray.

During his childhood, Ray watched his grandfather illustrating Bible stories with colored pastels on paper. Drawing pictures was as much a part of Ray's boyhood as his daily chores. At age 12, he saved enough money to buy a set of oil paints so he could do his first paintings.

When Ray was 19, his father was tragically killed in a tractor accident on their farm. The farm was sold and the family moved to California to be near their relatives. This move to California was a pivotal point in Ray's life. He graduated from college and married his high school sweetheart, Beverly.

Ray was employed as an engineer but his early interest in painting soon surfaced. He would paint earnestly in the evenings and week-ends after work. The more he painted , the more he realized that this is what he wanted to do the rest of his life. In 1962 he and Bev opened a curio shop/gallery in Oak Glen, CA and the paintings began selling and his self-taught art career was established. During the 60's he painted landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, American and some Indian subjects. Ray also began entering art shows and competitions and his awards and medals helped develop his fame in California and in many states. Ray was most grateful for the help from his two main galleries, Husberg Gallery in Sedona, AZ and Gallery Americana in Carmel, CA.

Also for the loyalty and trust of dozens of art collectors that bought his artwork through the years. Ray's paintings became in great demand during the 70's and 80's and Ray established one rule: to deliver quality of art beyond the price. He strove always to offer quality that exceeded the monetary value of the painting as he increased his prices very slowly.

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ray swanson with navajo children

Ray became the most famous for his portraits of the Navajo elders and the Navajo children dressed in their colorful native attire. Ray made regular driving trips to the Navajo Reservation, which was a 3-hour drive from their home in Prescott, AZ. He and his family, daughter, Pamela and son, Steven, moved to Arizona in 1973 because he realized that he needed to visit the Native American tribes of the southwest as frequently as possible. Ray wanted to observe them in their surroundings and have them model for him for the paintings. Eventually, he painted the Hopi, Pima, Apache and Nez Perce of Idaho and Sioux Indians. At this same time Ray was painting the ranching cowboys near their Prescott, AZ home.

Years later, Ray turned his artistic eye to those unique regions of Alaska, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Far East that have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. Ray had a desire to paint the people of the world, particularly in rural areas, as they worked hard on their land or with their crafts to earn a living.

Numerous awards and honors were bestowed upon Ray during these years. You can see the list of his honors on the Awards page of this website.

Ray and Bev's family continued to grow as each child married and had children. Steve and Stephanie Swanson had two sons, Cody and Justin. David and Pamela had four children, Victoria, Jacquelyn, Preston and Parker. Pamela and David operated their own gallery, Pierce Fine Art, in Scottsdale, AZ during the 1990's. When they sold the gallery, Pam became a full-time gospel singer and they moved to the Franklin, Tennessee area. Pamela still retains an interest in advancing artist's careers and selling art. Steve and Stephanie operate the Swanson Art and Frame business from Phoenix, AZ.

During the summer of 2004, Ray was bothered with painful back trouble and at Mayo Hospital on Oct. 1, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer (bone marrow cancer). He fought a brave battle as the medical team and many prayers attempted to save his life. On December 17, 2004 at age 67, he passed from this life to a better place in Heaven to be with his Lord and Savior.

Ray will be remembered for his quiet and gentle spirit and for his beautiful paintings that will endure and be enjoyed for many years.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 11 Timothy 4:7

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