FAMILY PICNIC captures the essence of family, our knowledge of where we come from, and our connection to our past–our roots. It is the universal model of sharing food, laughter, and kindness with those we love. All of our preparations, journeys, and stories come together as we talk and eat with each other. When we gather together to share a meal, we tell stories, discuss problems, and find solutions. Friends, family, and food bring us together – and have throughout our history .
Because Swanson printed giclee editions in smaller batches, only those printed during his lifetime are signed by the artist. The remaining prints from the edition are made using the same image he created and approved, but with his signature printed where he would have signed them..
The artwork was based on a small black and white family photo (you can see it, below) which I recreated in bright and vivid colors, and intricate patterns from my imagination. As told by my mother, it was the 1925 feast of St. John the Baptist. My mother was 16 years old, and it was her brother Juan’s 18th birthday, as well as his Saint’s day. Together with their mom and neighbors, they drove on a flatbed truck up to a pine forest in the Sierra Madres of Chihuahua, Mexico. They brought chicken, rice, tortillas, pinto beans, and cheese for a picnic. As two young fellows, neighbors, played mandolin and guitar, the group danced and sang.
I hope my art speaks of the hospitality I have experienced from people of all ethnicities, nationalities, and religious backgrounds. The kindness, sharing and community I have felt stays with me and inspires my art. I feel gratitude recalling the care and warmth of a meal, good company, and generosity and kindness given me, often from those who had little. These experiences of sharing with our immediate family and the guests we welcome to our table help us to feel solidarity with the whole human family around the world.
FAMILY PICNIC- Reflections and History
1925 – Family Photo
Memories Of My Family
In 1972, my mother showed me an old photo taken of her family at a picnic in Chihuahua, Mexico, She sat and told me the story of the celebration of her brother’s birthday in 1925. It was on the feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24, 1925). People celebrate this feast by having a picnic by the river, as the waters are specially blessed on the day. My mom was 16 years old. It was her brother, Juan Velasquez’s eighteenth birthday, and his Saint’s day. Their mom and their neighbors made food. They cooked chicken, and brought rice, tortillas, pinto beans, and cheese for the picnic.
The group drove on a flatbed truck to a pine forest, located by a river, about 7,000 feet up in the Sierra Madres of Chihuahua, Mexico, not far from the small village where they lived. Two young fellows, neighbors, played mandolin and guitar. They made music while all the people danced.
In the mountains, it is clear in the mornings. But, every day in the summer, by 3:00pm in the afternoon, there are thunderstorms and torrential rains for one hour, before it clears up again. When the rains came, they all jumped on the truck to quickly get home. The flatbed truck was used in the lumber hauling business, moving railroad ties from the woods to the railways, and was open to the air. Everyone got wet from the warm rains. But, they had enjoyed themselves so much that they weren’t bothered by getting drenched, and they quickly dried off. They all had a very good time.
The Christero War (1926-1929), would soon begin in Mexico. After many years of the Revolution, including the death of my grandfather by firing squad in 1914, the building unrest and the persecution of the Catholic Church convinced my mother’s family to leave Mexico. In 1927, they would enter the United States in El Paso, Texas. My Uncle Juan had already left for the U.S., to work with his brother-in-law who was a foreman for a mining company in Ludlow, CA. My grandmother, aunt, and mom also traveled to Ludlow to visit with their family, and in 1928, they moved to Los Angeles. My aunt and mom took jobs working in the garment industry.
1973 – Painting
Crayon Scrafitto Painting
The small 3½” x 5” photo was in poor shape, very damaged and worn. I decided to recreate the photo in a crayon scrafitto painting in 1973.
I started with a drawing. Over the drawing, I painted transparent dyes and watercolors. Over that, I applied many layers of crayon and oil pastels, building the surface for the painting. I used the technique of scrafitto, carefully drawing/scratching with a pointed instrument through layers of wax crayon. I drew many patterns and textures for the trees and grasses, as well as on the clothing. For me, it was an elaborate artwork at the time.
The painting captures a universal quality of family gatherings, of memories of our families and our roots. The human experience of our connections to the past—laughter, stories, kindness, sharing, and eating as we gather together, is expressed in this artwork.
The other universal aspect is the sharing of food. This includes all the preparations, journeys; and sharing for the meals. Food brought us together – as it has for the story of humanity.
I was unsure about sharing this work with people. It is so personal and particular to my family, that I didn’t know if it would be relevant for my friends and collectors. But the more I worked on the image, the more I saw it reflecting our shared connection to humanity. It is not just one family, but a meditation on memories of family gatherings and celebrations, even in times of difficulty.
mid-1970s – Album Jacket
Reception of the Painting
A young man, enthusiastic for my work, saw the artwork and wanted to purchase it. He said it reminded him of his family, and the stories he remembered of their gatherings. They were Armenian immigrants and had lived in the Central Valley of California. His father, the talented and popular singer/composer, Ross Bagdasarian Sr., died in 1972, the year before I completed the painting. Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. purchased the painting, which was used as the cover art for a special tribute album their recording company produced, commemorating his father.
2014 – Giclée
Painting To Giclée
The only visual record I had of this painting was a slide. In 2013, this slide was digitally scanned. I developed the image for use in a poster on community and food which I printed in February, 2014. While I was working with the image, I realized that the scan was too crude for use in a larger, giclée project. I contacted the collector who owns this painting in 2014, and he agreed to lend it back to me, to create a high quality digital record of the artwork. With my studio staff, I began to enhance the digital image, and to develop the giclee edition
After a few months, Kolibri Art Studio in Torrance, CA, printed a 21” x 24” proof of the enhanced image. Seeing the physical proof, we worked to continue correcting and further refining the image. I redeveloped the artwork, exploring new ideas for refinements both digitally and with painted studies. I printed additional proofs, inspecting each closely, continuing to add details and making further refinements with each proof. On November 19, 2014, I approved the final edition, assigning it as a an edition of 100 giclée art prints.
FAMILY PICNIC – Thoughts and Quotes
Social Activist, Pacifist
and Founder of the
Catholic Worker movement
“We cannot love God unless we love each other and to love each other we must know each other
in the breaking of bread and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet,too,
even with a crust, where there is companionship. Love comes with community.”
“And there the great revolution could take place; the whole human race could finally sit down
in one big circle and eat together and having once shared a meal,
could no longer be enemies.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Author and Poet
“We have learned to see in bread an instrument of community… the flavor of bread shared has no equal.”
founder of L’Arche
“Food is the heart of community. Food that nourishes our minds and our hearts.
Food means being together, celebrating together.
Meals are the center of everything in our community because everything is about creating home.”
Daniel Berrigan, SJ,
Peace Activist and Author
“When I hear bread breaking I see something else; it seems almost as though
God never meant us to do anything else so beautiful.
A sound the crust breaks up like manna and falls all over everything,
and then we eat; bread gets inside humans.”
Rev. David Farley,
UMC, Los Angeles,
““For those who work on the land, for those who plant the seed,
For those who work with their hands to bring us the food we need
Thanks be to God and blessings on all who labor
Thanks be to God and justice for all our neighbors.
This is my prayer…”