David Swing

David Swing was one of Phoenix’s most prolific and best known artists in the early 20th century.  Over sixty years after his death, Swing’s artistic legacy remains strong although many details of his personal life are sketchy.

A multi-talented man, Swing made his living at various times as a painter, interior designer, engraver, landscape artist and muralist.  He was also an accomplished violinist and trumpeter who played in orchestras in Cincinnati, Pasadena and Phoenix. His palette was typically softer than those of his colleagues who painted traditional Southwest landscapes, his style characterized by the "use of delicate brown and blue tones". It was once written his representations were “meant to soothe, not challenge, the senses”.

Swing was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1864, the fourth of seven children. His father, Alfred, was a professor of Greek and art at Batavia College.  David grew up in Newport, Kentucky and apprenticed with the William M. Donaldson Lithograph Company for several years in Cincinnati. By 1892 he had moved to California where he owned and operated David Swing and Company, a landscape and interior design firm located in downtown Los Angeles. He later served as president of the Los Angeles Engraving Company and had a studio in Pasadena.

In 1917 Swing relocated to Phoenix and began creating many of his works on a large scale.  He lived for over twenty years  at 35 Palm Lane in Phoenix (just north of the present day location of the Phoenix Art Museum) with his wife Margaret, five years his junior, and their three children.

 

Swing's granddaughter, Virginia Abbott, nostalgically recalls the hours spent watching her grandfather paint in an "old, beat up shed" behind his house on Palm Avenue during the Depression.  She also remembers a man who was frequently too nice for his own good, giving away large paintings to friends and acquaintances who claimed they could not afford his work. His largesse resulted in many financially trying times.

 

Swing was an art instructor at Phoenix Junior College for nearly twenty years in the 1920s and 30s. He was also one of Arizona’s most active WPA era artists. His first major work involved the painting of landscape murals in the Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Papago Park.  Swing’s landscapes were painted over murals created by another Phoenix artist, John Leeper, because Leeper’s murals contained nude figures. “Public outcry at the impropriety of Leeper's work”, caused by the concern the nudes would be offensive to the TB patients, led to Swing’s commission in 1935.

In addition to Papago Park, Swing painted murals for Phoenix Junior College, the State Capitol, the Shrine and Masonic temples, and the Orpheum Theatre.  According to Peter Bermingham, in The New Deal in the Southwest, no other Arizona WPA era artist could match Swing for “sheer acreage of painted canvas”.  In 1936 he collaborated with Florence Blakeslee in another WPA project, designing twenty-three sculptured reliefs for the grand stand at the Arizona State Fairgrounds.

Swing's most ambitious project came when he was commissioned by the state legislature to paint fourteen murals for Arizona's exhibit at the Golden Gate International exposition in San Francisco in 1939.  He was paid a total of $3,750 for the commission, which was granted as "recognition of his standing as one of the state's greatest artists."  Swing was assisted "in preparation of the murals" by Scottsdale artist Marjorie Thomas.

Framed in saguaro ribs, the five foot by ten foot canvases represented subjects from throughout the state including the Grand Canyon, Tumacacori Mission, the Territorial Prison in Yuma, the San Francisco Peaks, the Painted Desert, and the Cochise Head in Chiricahua National Monument.  An Arizona Highways article in June, 1939 predicted the exhibit would "do much to increase transcontinental travel through Arizona..." The murals are currently in the permanent collection of the Arizona State Capitol Museum.

A philosopher as well as a musician and artist, Swing once wrote "Happiness is the most accommodating of all things.  It will come to a cottage as soon as to a palace. You need never wait for any outward pomp to come.  As the sunshine of the Almighty will shine through a simple vine as richly as upon the gilded dome of a temple, so happiness falls with equal sweetness falls upon all whose minds are at peace and in whose hearts flow the good thoughts and good sentiments of life."

Swing was suffering from diabetes near the end of his life, and in the early 1940’s he moved into one of the bungalows on the Cudia Movie City, at the invite S.B.P. Cudia.  In exchange, Swing painted several murals for Cudia City.  

David Swing died on June 12, 1945 in Phoenix.

David Swing Circa 1935

David Swing Circa 1935

David Swing Horseshoe Falls

We are always interested in purchasing or accepting David Swing paintings on consignment.  Please contact us with any inquiries.

David Swing Sonoran Majesty
Click on thumbnail for enlargement. If the image does not enlarge the painting is not longer available.
David Swing Painting Superstion Mountains
 
David Swing Arizona State Fairgrounds reliefs
Arizona State Fairgrounds reliefs
 
David Swing Mural

 

One of the Blue Coyote Gallery's primary objectives is to acquire biographical information about historically important Arizona artists. Background and biographical information about many of the deceased artists we feature is often very sketchy and limited at best. 

If you knew David Swing personally, or knew someone who did, we would be grateful if you could share any biographical information, stories, or anecdotes you may have. Information can be sent via email or postal mail. We would also be glad to arrange interviews either via telephone or in person. 

Please contact Gary Fillmore at gary@bluecoyotegallery.com

 
 
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