For almost half a century, James Swann was one of the Midwest's most respected printmakers. From 1931 until the mid-1960s, he produced more than 250 graphic works in a variety of media, including etchings, aquatints, drypoints, and lithographs. He was also a newspaper illustrator, and he created countless drawings—an activity he continued until his death in 1985.
After moving to Chicago in 1936, he became a protégé and close friend of Bertha Jaques, one of the founders of the Chicago Society of Etchers. Until her death in 1941, Jaques continued to support and encourage Swann. He eventually assumed the position of secretary/treasurer of the Society, a position once held by Jaques. Eventually, Swann produced fewer prints himself and devoted most of his time and efforts promoting the work of other printmakers. He was an active member of the Prairie Print Makers group and sought to expand their exposure in the larger print community.
Swann's subject matter ranged from picturesque views of trees and farms to energetic vistas of downtown Chicago. He also created numerous images of his extensive travels, from Japan to Scandinavia and Easter Island. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art possesses more than 1,000 works by Swann, including preparatory drawings and various states for most of Swann's prints.