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THE ASCENT reveals the essence of the biblical story of Jacob’s Dream, as we have a capacity to grow and develop throughout our lifetime.

The intricately patterened stairs and golden ladders have many brightly colored angels climbing up and down. The clouds are galaxies of colors. Each one formed from many layers of fine dots and stippling.

Multiple ladders and stairs lead the dreamer to see visions of universes, and expanding beauty. Every step, and rung of the ladder, is his gradual ascent from each of his life experiences and lessons. As he climbs the ladder, he is supported, encouraged and guided by angels.


THE ASCENT- Image History
John August Swanson’s 2014 artwork, THE ASCENT, is based on a continuing theme that has reappeared many times throughout his artwork.
The theme of the Dream of Jacob, first appeared in the artist’s drawings in 1969.
In 1970, he completed a painting on the subject, which was then used four years later as the primary idea for a serigraph edition.
In 1974, the first edition of silk-screen prints on the theme was completed.
Ten years later, in 1984, John August Swanson again returned to the theme for a new painting.
After completing that work, in order to make it more available, in 1986 he recreated the artwork as a hand-printed serigraph edition.
In February, 2001, he combined the Dream of Jacob with his love of the circus, and with the idea of the wise fool, and published his serigraph,




Paintings and Serigraphs
circa 1970




late 1970s and Early 1980s





Painting and Serigraph





The Jester
Sketch, Painting, and Serigraph
1986 -2001

THE ASCENT – Sketches and Preliminary Drawings
John August Swanson completed printing the serigraph edition of PSALM 23 at the end of November, 2010. He then began working on sketches on the theme of Jacob’s Ladder for his next serigraph. He completed many drawings and watercolor sketches. His ideas and sketches continued to evolve. The image that developed moved from the traditional Jacob’s Ladder theme into a Ladder of Ascent. This new artwork was initially planned to be a serigraph edition, to be completed at Aurora Serigraphic Studio by Master Printer James F Butterfield. Unfortunately, with the passing of Mr. Butterfield at the end of January, 2011, the serigraph project was abandoned. At that time, after having worked with Mr. Butterfield for over twenty years, John had decided to stop printing serigraph editions.




Preliminary Sketches
Planning For Serigraph
October, 2010


Watercolor Sketch – 10/21/2010


Watercolor Sketch – 10/21/2010




Preliminary Sketches
Final Serigraph Concept
and Painting Concept


Final Serigraph Concept Sketch – 12/20/2010


Watercolor Sketch for THE ASCENT painting- 10/1/2013

THE ASCENT – Painting
In late October, 2013, John August Swanson returned to his sketches and drawings to begin working on a new painting. He began work on the new piece in
November, 2013. The painting was finished a little over seven months later in May, 2014.Descriptions from a note written by John August Swanson on June 1, 2014 —
The colors are strong. I used a tooth brush to spatter the dots to create a stipple effect with the opaque white paint. I would create stencils to isolate areas for this stippling.

Once it was dry, I would brush transparent acrylic paint. Most of this work is on the sky and clouds. The theme of the ASCENT is like a dream of Jacob–with multiple ladders and stairs leading the wandering person’s dream to see visions of universes and expanding beauty. The ladders have many angels climbing up and down, and stairs also that show angels climbing up and down the clouds are like galaxies with layers of colors over the many dots I spattered as well as fine dots that were carefully painted to give a more fuller shaping.
The clouds have the colors, some are blues–some violet, some magenta, some yellows, some orange, some red,–all are painted so that there is a graduated shading, from dark to lighter colors. I used gold leaf and gold metallic paint in many areas.
The stairs are of many colors. The Angels wings have different colors and patterns of feathers, also gold metallic embellishments. The angel’s garments have bands of bright colors, also with gold leaf. The ladders that are in the highest region are painted with gold paint– This is a large project for me, I doubt that I can do this again, or would take this on again–But it is exciting to look at and see the details as well as the conceptual expression that we have great capacity to keep growing and developing in the short time we are here on earth.





Progression Of


Painting – 11/04/2013


Painting – 11/13/2013


Painting – 01/06/2014





Painting – 01/22/2014


Painting – 01/27/2014


Painting – 01/31/2014





Painting – 02/17/2014


Painting – 02/24/2014


Painting – 03/21/2014





Painting – 04/16/2014


Swanson With Finished Painting


Framed Painting – 06/16/2014

THE ASCENT – Giclee Printing
Following the completion of the painting of THE ASCENT, it was scanned at ArtScans Studio in Los Angeles. Two months of additional alterations and changes were digitally made to the scan at the John August Swanson Studio under the direction of John August Swanson. The final giclee image was completed and approved on July 18, 2014, and sent to Kolibri Art Studio in Torrance, CA for printing.




Giclee Production
Scan and Print


Scan Detail – 05/20/2014


Giclee Detail – 07/18/14





Scan Detail – 05/20/2014


Giclee Detail – 07/18/14





Scan – 05/20/2014


Giclee – 07/18/14


ASCENT – Reflections


Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI Theologian, Teacher, Author

In the Book of Genesis we read that Jacob had a dream within which he saw a ladder connecting earth to heaven with angels going up and down on this ladder. Waking from the dream, Jacob realizes that he has had a very privileged experience within which the gap between heaven and earth was, for a moment, bridged. Not wanting to lose this experience, nor this special place, he sets up a stone as a pillar, as an altar, to mark the place, a concrete physical spot, where he sensed a special connection between heaven and earth, so that he find his way back to this privileged spot. That’s the first church building and that’s ultimately the meaning of every church building, every temple, every shrine, every mosque, and every holy site. It’s a privileged place where there’s a ladder between heaven and earth, with the angels of God ascending and descending. It’s a special place where one can go to pray…

The ladder upon which angels ascend and descend between heaven and earth can be found everywhere, nature itself is a cathedral and, inside each of us, there’s a church.

Two Churches, Two Sacred Places, Two Struggles, November 24, 2014

The Angels Made Way

A poem for Kayla Mueller

Mark C. Johnson, Executive Director, Center & Library for the Bible and Social Justice

There were so many
(And each day more)
So many, many more
Who built a ladder
Of prayers, blessings,
That we would want
To believe with you
That though you slept,
Your head on the Rock,
That Angels made Way.
And rising you’ve climbed
Rungs of suffering yet
Seen in others’ eyes’ pain
And carried it with you
To a promised Peace.

 Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI Theologian, Teacher, Author

[The challenge to grow] comes with an invitation that invites us upwards, towards a spirituality of the ascent. All spiritualities worthy of the name, stress the need to make a certain ascent, to grow beyond our immaturities, our laziness, our wounds, and the perennial hedonism and shallowness of our culture. The emphasis here is always to reach upward, beyond, towards the heavens, and towards all that is more noble, altruistic, compassionate, loving, admirable, and saintly.


Mother to Son, 1926

by Langston Hughes 
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.


Jacob’s Ladder

Pete Seeger
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Brothers, sisters, all.

Every rung goes higher and higher,
Every rung goes higher and higher,
Every rung goes higher and higher,
Brothers, sisters, all.

We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
Sisters, brothers, all.

Every new one makes us stronger,
Every new one makes us stronger,
Every new one makes us stronger,
Sisters, brothers, all


Additional information


Framed, Unframed