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James Swinnerton

(1875 - 1974)

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Biography

Born in Eureka, California, in 1875, James Guilford Swinnerton shared his name with his father and grandfather before him. By the time he was twenty years old, he was no longer simply James Guilford Swinnerton III, but the Jimmy Swinnerton: celebrity cartoonist, journalist, caricaturist, and protégé of the legendary newspaper baron, William Randolph Hearst. As a teenager, Swinnerton toured in a minstrel show, studied art in San Francisco with Maynard Dixon and Edward Borein (both of whom remained lifelong friends), and, in 1892, found employment with Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. He was to remain on the Hearst payroll for over seventy years. 

Thanks to the wild popularity of “The Little Bears and Tykes” cartoon characters he developed for the Examiner, Swinnerton was a certified celebrity by the late 1890s. In 1904, he debuted “Little Jimmy,” his syndicated cartoon series that ran until 1958. Swinnerton’s comings and goings, marriages and divorces, were reported in newspapers across the country, but by 1906 he was a desperately ill man. Suffering from alcoholism and having contracted tuberculosis, Swinnerton seemed to be doomed to an early grave, but the hot, dry climate of the desert Southwest worked wonders: He recovered his health, cut back on his drinking, and prospered for another sixty-eight years.  

Jimmy Swinnerton began to sketch and paint the landscape around Palm Springs in 1907, and over the course of the next sixty-plus years he became known as the “Dean of Desert Southwest Artists.” On regular forays throughout Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada, Swinnerton produced a wealth of drawings, oil sketches, and major canvases, a significant number of which were purchased by Dr. Otey Johnson of Ardmore, Oklahoma. His most favored painting locations included Monument Valley, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (where Hearst maintained a lavish lodge), and the area surrounding the Salton Sea in southernmost California. 

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