Francis and the Birds ©2015 by John August Swanson. Swanson’s riotous color and expressive form reveal a surpassingly spiritual vision of faith and justice.
The brilliant color palette and distinctive calligraphic style of John August Swanson is likely familiar to many In Trust readers because his work has been exhibited in seminaries and churches and featured on posters and greeting cards. Swanson, who died last year at 83, was an award-winning Los Angeles-based artist who often portrayed biblical stories as well as modern-day social justice issues.
Swanson’s art is in the permanent collections of museums around the world. His painting, The Procession (2007), is displayed in the Vatican Museums’ Collection of Modern Religious Art.
But to do a deep dive into Swanson’s work, look no further than Candler School of Theology and the Pitts Theological Library at Emory University. In 2008, Candler adorned the walls of its then-new Rita Ann Rollins building with 55 of Swanson’s paintings and prints – the largest collection of Swanson’s artwork currently on public display. Later, the artist visited campus and met with Patrick Graham, former Librarian and now Librarian emeritus, about placing his archives at Pitts to complement the Candler collection. That came to pass, and the Pitts collection was processed between 2015 and 2021 by Brandon Wason, head of Special Collections for the theological library.
The Pitts collection also contains Swanson’s notes and correspondence, as well as finished pieces in oil, watercolor, acrylic, and prints in a range of media.
John August Swanson
Many of Swanson’s paintings have been adapted into limited-edition serigraphs (screen prints); these typically feature 30 to 60 separate colors, each requiring a separate stencil drawn by the artist. The Pitts collection includes hundreds of progressive proofs and stencils showing the development of various prints. The serigraph of The Procession, the painting in the Vatican’s collection, contains an amazing 89 separate colors.
More about Swanson and the Pitts collection is at Emory University Pitts Theology Library