James C. Swainson Dies; Former Alaskan was 55

James Chase Swainson

James Chase Swainson, a former Alaskan with ties to Sitka, died Feb. 20 in Ellensburg, Washington, at the age of 55.

He was born  August 27, 1967, in Ellensburg to Susan and Jim Swainson. James split his time living between both parents, traveling between Alaskan towns to live with his dad Jimmy and stepmom Sparky in Petersburg, with his mother Susan and stepfather Tom Larson in Sitka, and later with his mother and stepfather Mark Goettlicher in Anchorage. 

After graduating from East High School in Anchorage, James moved to Seattle and lived in the University District and on Capitol Hill. During this time he fished during the summers in Alaska and lived a carefree lifestyle traveling around the country following the Grateful Dead. He moved to Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California, where he began focusing on his painting skills. James was an avid journal keeper and wrote almost every day in a diary. His journals were full of art and poetry detailing his daily life.

James met Janet Margot in Seattle and they married and moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he attended the Parsons School of Design. With Janet’s help James was able to overcome dyslexia and graduate as valedictorian of his class with a bachelor of fine arts. Living in New York City was a vibrant time in James’ life as he flourished in the New York art scene.

James and Janet traveled extensively through North Africa and Eastern Europe. On October 11, 2001, their daughter Samantha Exene was born. Samantha is currently studying journalism in Rome, Italy.

James lived in San Francisco during the 1989 earthquake and in New York City during 9-11.

Around 2004, James moved to Seattle where he later met Erin Carnahan and her three children, Madalyn, Joceline, and Devlin. On March 3, 2009, they welcomed baby girl Darby Ann Mary into the world.

The family took full advantage of the many activities that Seattle had to offer and enjoyed camping together, taking trips to Arizona, and long drives to explore new places.

James was close with his brothers and sisters – Jessica, Dylan, Shiloh and Jacob – taking special care to broaden his siblings’ horizons with big city adventures. He was always up for a walk no matter the weather or time of day.

James had the gift of gab and was full of stories. He appreciated tattoo art and had many himself. When his brother Jacob was 15 he visited James in Brooklyn and James gave him his first tattoo, making him the youngest kid in school with a tattoo. That was the kind of big brother he was – always ready to have fun and break some rules.

James was diagnosed with signet ring cell stomach cancer in February 2022 and on July 19, 2022, James married Erin at home with a beautiful outdoor wedding officiated by his Uncle Billy Swainson.

James outlived the doctor’s expectations by many months and on Feb. 20 he died at his home in Ellensburg, surrounded by his beloved books, art, cats and family.

He will always be remembered for his great laugh, his quirky sense of humor, his love of family and his joy of art, poetry and reading. He will be deeply missed.

James is survived by his parents Susan Goettlicher (Mark), Jimmy Swainson (Mary Ellen); step-parents Sparky Swainson and Tom Larson; brothers Dylan Swainson and Jacob Goettlicher (Cait); sisters Jessica Ieremia (Joe), Shiloh Swainson McNalley (Steve); his children Samantha, Madalyn, Joceline, Devlin, and Darby; his niece Jasmine Ieremia; his nephews Tausani Ieremia, Kai Swainson and Ethan Goettlicher; his grandmother Mary Ann Brain; and his many aunts, uncles and cousins.

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July 2004 

Homes for sale: Stunning view, 4 bdrms., 3 baths, master suite,hardwood-laminate floors, new appliances $369,000; Three-level family home, apt. 3 bdrms., 2 kitchens, 13/4 baths, $232,000.


July 1974

    Lee Salisbury, speech and theater arts professor at the University of Alaska, will be drama instructor for grades 7-12 at the Regional Fine Arts Camp. The camp is sponsored by the Southeast Alaska Regional Arts Council and is held on the Sheldon Jackson College campus. Jim Hope is camp director.


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