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.
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.
HONORS & AWARDS
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
1937 - 2004