Swanson Art at Candler

Candler School of Theology enjoys an extensive collection of the work of the late Los Angeles artist John August Swanson.

Noted for his finely detailed, brilliantly colored paintings and original prints, John August Swanson‘s works have been displayed in some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, The Art Institute of Chicago, London’s Tate Gallery, the Vatican Museum’s Collection of Modern Religious Art, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, among others. With more than 60 pieces on display, Candler has the largest public display of Swanson’s art.

The son of a Mexican mother and a Swedish father, Swanson was influenced by the folk art traditions of those two countries. He was also interested in the way Byzantine and medieval works of art, such as mosaics and stained glass windows, communicated the stories of the Old and New Testaments to people of different times and places. Many of his works are visual narratives consisting of multiple panels, each one showing a scene from the story.

Swanson described his art as his “most social act.” All of his works combine a richness of detail that conveys the diversity of the human experience with an emotional simplicity that evokes the transcendent unity of the human spirit. Optimistic but rarely sentimental, they offer a fresh perspective that prompts viewers to reexamine their perspectives of familiar scenes and stories. Themes of journeys and spiritual transformation are prevalent in his work.

“In John Swanson’s art there is a rare combination of humility and wit, awe and flair, gratitude and generosity. And we cannot easily forget what we are privileged to see. This art stays us and will stay with us, reinvigorating sense and sensibility.”

Dr. Don Saliers

William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship, Emeritus


Most of Swanson’s works are serigraphs made by employing a sophisticated type of screen printing. A screen of fabric is stretched tightly across a frame, and then designs are created in stencil form on the screen, allowing ink to move through to the paper below. A separate screen is required for each color printed in the serigraph. Swanson’s serigraphs are unusually complex, not only in their detail, but also in the number of stencils used. The Procession, for example, required 89 stencils.

Swanson died on September 23, 2021 at age 83 in his home city of Los Angeles.

To schedule a tour of the Swanson Art Collection at Candler, contact the school’s Office of Advancement and Alumni Engagement at (404) 727-6352.

The John August Swanson Papers and Artwork archive collection at Pitts Theology Library includes hundreds of prints, items of correspondence, reproductions and descriptions of his art. Learn more about the artist and access the archive finding aid.