Ray Swanson was born in 1937 in South Dakota. 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."
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.
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.
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. 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.
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