Candler School of Theology enjoys an extensive collection of the work of Los Angeles artist John August Swanson. Noted for his finely detailed, brilliantly colored paintings and original prints, Swanson has works 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 Museums’ Collection of Modern Religious Art, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, among others. Candler's holdings—currently 55 pieces—comprise the largest single collection of Swanson's art in the world.
The son of a Mexican mother and a Swedish father, Swanson is influenced by the folk art traditions of those two countries. He also is 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 describes his art as "my 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.
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. Procession, for example, required 89 stencils.