John August Swanson never planned to be an artist. He never took a formal course of study in art or art history. He struggled terribly in school because of dyslexia and felt like a failure in every subject he tried to pursue. Then he discovered printing. He took a night class from Sister Corita Kent, who encouraged creative “outside the box” thinking and taught her students the process of silk screening.
John can remember the amazing feeling of how his brain was quickly able to understand and visualize the sequence of how to lay out a design and a series of paint layers to create a desired result. “Something clicked,” he says. As he spent more and more time creating in collaboration with others, he became increasingly focused on learning from everyone around him. He observed the world and the work of other artists, and over time “artist” became his identity.
John received a lot of negative input in those early years, from family and others who were concerned for him. “You’ll never make a living this way,” they said. “If you don’t finish college you’re doomed; you need to get a real job,” they lectured. But John was learning to cultivate the strengths God gave him. He was learning to trust his own intuition. He was eager, as he said when he was with us on a recent Sunday, to contribute to the opening of hearts, minds, and doors in the world.
All of us have gifts and strengths meant to be shared for the sake of our own and the larger community’s health and happiness. Our paths to identifying and learning to enjoy those gifts and strengths are as varied as we are. How wonderful to receive Mr. Swanson’s testimony, in person and through his artworks, that God walks beside us wherever we go, guiding us by the Spirit, and calling us into fullness of life through Jesus Christ.
I am grateful for the Hollander family gifts of “Take Away the Stone” and “Entry into the City” and for RHUMC’s warm reception of an artist who inspires faith.