Completed: May, 2018
Dimensions: 21.5″ x 23.75″
Edition Size: 100 Prints
Paper: Somerset Enhanced 330 GSM (Archival 100% Cotton-Rag Paper)
Media: Giclee Fine Art Print


The shepherds were the poorest of workers. An angel tells them to go to a small shed in the fields. There, they find a new born baby and his parents, homeless refugees in the winter night.

Swanson first painted the Shepherds in 1969, layering different colors of crayon, then scratching patterns of varying depth, to reveal the color desired color, a technique called Crayon Sgraffito. In 2017, he revisited the painting, reimagining it, enhancing and reworking the image, with the experience and techniques he had developed over the intervening decades, preserving the freshness and simplicity of the original.

The artwork is an overflowing cornucopia of brightly colored patterns. The sky is lit with numerous dazzling stars and the central image is surrounded by a border of rainbow colors.

The beautiful tradition of families making creches (or Nacimiento) with many figures and animals in miniature, to celebrate the holiday, inspired Swanson. Combining this powerful image with the words from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:27-28), gave the Christmas story a more socially relevant context, bringing it into our every day lives.

THE SHEPHERDS – History of the Image
Based on the 1969 sgraffito painting, the 2018 giclee of THE SHEPHERDS incorporates new sketches, line work, and small paintings, digitally combined and refined over 18 months.




Progression of the Artwork














Sketches, Drawings
and Paintings







Shepherds – Reflections
and commentaries of other writers and theologians.

Gertrud Mueller Nelson
Author, Poet, Theologian

Who are the first to listen to angels? Who are the first to be shown our poor saviour? The poorest of workers, the shepherds who smell of their sheep. They are pure enough and simple enough to know that a small baby in straw is, in fact, their saviour. There in a shed at the edge of the hills, his refugee parents have hewn out a corner against the wind. There between animal breath and a pile of manure lies our redeemer as a helpless baby. God chooses to send us God’s son, in the lowliest, earthiest place, because there he is closest to each of us. That is the colorful world, the real world the artwork wants to show: a sky-full of stars, and THE star. And a border of rainbows.

Carmela Lacayo
President, CEO
National Association for Hispanic Elderly

Always one of my favorite themes, I love your new work!
The colors, the legend, the simplicity of your story, but the message in this work… I love the shepherd narrative because I personally have stayed involved in actual sheep herding, I take my dogs for herding in Camarillo. Shepherding can be called one of the jobs on earth. The Nativity narrative has always touched me because of the mystery- Jesus came to us among the shepherds and their sheep- the poor, those that lived close to the earth- the simple land and the sheep! That’s why I love the animals.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
English Writer, Poet, Philosopher
The Spirit of Christmas
Published 1985
Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home. But the other sort of paradox is not intentional and is certainly not beautiful. It is bad enough that we cannot altogether disentangle the tragedy of poverty. It is bad enough that the birth of the homeless, celebrated at hearth and altar, should sometimes synchronise with the death of the homeless in workhouses and slums. But we need not rejoice in this universal restlessness brought upon rich and poor alike; and it seems to me that in this matter we need a reform of the modern Christmas.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
American Poet, Writer
Leaves of Grass, 1855
And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles.

Mawi Asgedom
Ethiopian Refugee, Author
Of Beetles and Angels: 2002
Treat all people–even the most unsightly beetles–as though they were angels sent from heaven.

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
Irish Poet
The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes
Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured. The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home. History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme. So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the skyThat means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
American Poet, Philosopher
September on Jessore Road, 1971

Excerpt from the poem, written after visiting Bangladesh during the Liberation War
How many fathers in woe
How many sons nowhere to go?
How many daughters nothing to eat
How many uncles with swollen sick feet
Millions of babies in pain
Millions of mothers in rain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of children nowhere to go

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Dutch Painter
Letter to his brother Theo Van Gogh, April 3, 1878

via Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh, Carol Berry, 2018, InterVarsity Press
Happy is he who has faith in God, for he shall, although not without struggle and sorrow and life’s difficulties, overcome in the end. One cannot do better than, amidst everything in all circumstances, in all places and at all times, to hold fast to the thought of God and to strive to learn more of Him; one can do this through the Bible as well as through all other things.

It is good to go on believing that everything is full of wonder, more so than one can comprehend, for that is the truth; it is good to remain sensitive and lowly and meek in heart, even though one has to hide that feeling sometimes, because that is often necessary; it is good to be very learned about the things that are hidden from the wise and the educated of the world but are revealed instinctively to the poor and simple…


Additional information

Weight 3 lbs
Dimensions 36 × 7 × 7 in