When one Assumes…May 2011

Looking for Jimmy-Part V

Yet one more learning experience courtesy of

Shadows on the Mesa-Artists of the Painted Desert and Beyond




 James Swinnerton-December 1950

James Swinnerton in his Hollywood, California studio

December, 1950

Photo courtesy of Martin Litton

In Part One I discussed the Betatakin Ruins painting by Jimmy (below left). The painting can be seen in a photo from a January, 1951 Arizona Highways article (below center), which led me to speculate that Swinnerton may have not created the painting until almost thirty years after his first known visit to Tsegi Canyon and Betatakin Ruins. The painting can be seen again in the 1964 Palm Springs newspaper article (below far right), when Jimmy put the painting on the market for the first time.  I concluded that because Jimmy kept it in his private collection for so many years, it was obviously one of his favorites.

As my publishing deadline was approaching, I contacted Arizona Highways for permission to use the photo.  I was told the copyrights to all photos from their magazine belong to the respective photographers, and that I would need to seek permission from the photographer, Martin Litton.  Since the photograph was taken over sixty years ago, I  assumed that, like Jimmy, the photographer was no longer with us.


As the adage goes, we all know what happens when one assumes.

I am pleased to report that not only is Mr. Litton still with us, if our phone conversations were any indication he is a remarkably spry ninety-four years old.

He was generous enough to not only grant reproduction permission, but also to provide a copy of the full, un-cropped photo which can be seen in the above right.  He also shared a funny story about the experience.

When he left to meet Swinnerton at his studio in Hollywood, he recalls, “It was raining heavily that night so I was in a real hurry when I put the camera equipment into my car.  When I arrived at the studio I discovered, to my horror, that I had forgotten the all of my lighting equipment.”  Somehow they were able to get the clear and concise photo shown here with no more than “one bare one hundred watt incandescent light bulb hanging from the ceiling” over Jimmy’s head.

Martin also answered a question I had for many years.  Was Swinnerton really working on the painting in the photo, or was he just using it for a prop?  According to Martin, Betatakin Ruins was a “work in progress” at the time of the photo shoot.  Jimmy finally got around to putting the image on canvas nearly thirty years after creating the field sketch.

I also mentioned in Part I that I was in the process of obtaining for the book the actual field sketch of Betatakin that Swinnerton drew on the 1922 trip. Mission accomplished, however if you want to see it you need to buy the book.  (Hey, I have to save something for the later.)

James Swinnerton Betatakin RuinsJames Swinnerton with Betakin Ruins painting
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