Born in Eureka, California, on November 13, 1875, James Swinnerton became a famous painter of desert landscapes following a successful career as an illustrator and cartoonist. His mother died when he was young, and his father, the son of a Forty-Niner at Dutch Flat, started the newspaper Humboldt Star in Humboldt County and then became a judge in Stockton. Raised in Santa Clara by his grandfather, Swinnerton began his art studies at the San Francisco School of Design under William Keith and Emil Carlsen. At 17 he was employed by the San Francisco Examiner where he became a favorite of owner/publisher William Randolph Hearst who was impressed by his work. When Hearst went to New York to start a Sunday supplement, he joined him there.
In 1903 he moved to Palm Springs, California, and became a landscape painter, focusing on his love of the desert as his inspiration. From 1907, traveling with burro, sketching pad, and sleeping in the open air, he ranged over the entire Southwest painting the Arizona desert, the Grand Canyon and Navajo scenes as well as many California landscapes. Over the years, Swinnerton was friends with other Western artists like Ed Borein, Thomas Moran, Carl Eytell, Walt Disney and Will Rogers. He married Gretchen Parshall in 1938, ultimately settling in Cathedral City, California, and kept studios in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. In 1969, retrospective exhibitions of his work were held in Flagstaff and Palm Springs. Swinnerton Arch in Monument Valley is named for him.
Member: California Art Club; Bohemian Club (President, 1929) ; Academy of Western Painters.
Exhibited: Stendahls, La., 1920s; Bohemian Club, 1922; San Francisco Art Academy, 1923; Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939.
Works held: Arizona State University Art Museum; Desert Caballeros Western Museum; Great Plains Art Museum; Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site; Museum of Art at Brigham Young University; Palm Springs Art Museum; Phoenix Art Museum; Springville Museum of Art; The Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum; The University of Arizona Museum of Art.