Hidden Figures of Lawrence: Carolyn Swanson

Bon Appetit employee Carolyn Swanson standing with her artwork, featured in Andrew Commons on the first floor of the Warch Campus Center.
Photo by Larissa Davis

This story has been revised from the print copy to include more information on Swanson’s artistic talents and inspirations.


Warch Campus Center is cross roads of campus, where students eat their daily meals, wind down from the stress of classes and meet their friends. Students strolling into Andrew Commons may pass by or even notice beautifully hand drawn posters. The hidden artist is not so hidden. In fact, sometimes she can be found drawing at the cash register in the Commons and chatting with students. It is impossible to ignore her smile and cheery demeanor. Her name is Carolyn Swanson.

Swanson has worked as a cashier for Andrew Commons at Lawrence since the facility opened in 2009. Her duties include checking in and greeting students. “In my opinion, Bon Ap-petit has gone through many changes in the past nine years, yet they still strive to achieve their fundamental goals. Two of these goals has been to continually work to improve the quality of the food and service they provide for Lawrence,” comments Swanson.

In addition, Swanson creates four seasonal chalkboards each year that feature the local farmers in Wisconsin that Bon Appetit sources from. Her current work feature squirrels gather-ing nuts with the names of the local farmers hidden within the nuts and leaves. The pastel colors are subtle, but the details are intricate and bold, much like the personality of the artist herself. Although she does not consider herself an artist, Swanson describes herself as “a very creative individual with some artistic skill.”

Swanson has a B.S. degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Interior Design. “I do have a Liberal Arts degree,” she said. “I am no stranger to studio art classes, but recently I’ve been working individually on learning to draw realistic portraits. Each day I choose an aspect of portraiture that I would like to work on. The students provide an endless array of features and ex-pressions to sketch.”

“Renderings where a huge requirement for this field and were all done by hand; computer rendering programs where just being introduced prior to my graduation,” explained Swanson. Swanson utilizes her degree by working as an interior decorator outside of Lawrence as a way of honing in on her artistic outlet. “I am the owner of five duplexes in the Appleton area. Some of my duties include drywalling painting, choosing colors, and taking down walls [in apartments].”

Usually, Swanson will sketch in values from white to black, and this helps add realistic dimension to each of the drawings. “When I create the chalk drawings for Bon Appetit’s ‘Our Featured Local Farmers’ board,” Swanson remarked, “they allow me great creative license in de-signing the boards.” To date, Swanson has not pursued selling any of her drawings but has do-nated some to charities and has had some requests for commission work.

Although she has worked for nine years, Swanson never tires of meeting incoming fresh-men. Swanson said, “I like to keep fresh and interesting friendships with students over the years,” as it is a way for her to connect with her son who currently goes to Carthage University. Her daughter also went to Carthage. When asked how she balances work and home life, Swan-son replied, “At this point in my life my children have left the house to pursue higher education, so I do not have any issues [balancing work and home life]. When they were younger it was helpful when they were flexible so I could schedule time for work and time with family.”

When she is not working the register, Swanson enjoys biking, hiking, tennis and the out-doors. Additionally, Swanson enjoys reading, writing and doing crafts. When asked who her in-spiration is, Swanson thought carefully, then laughed. “I do not have an individual person who is

my inspiration, but I try to glean from a variety of good and wonderful and interesting things about people, and so I look for those qualities in them and that inspires me.”

Swanson is just one of the many hidden figures at Lawrence that has quite a life outside of what many students know. Even those people who greet students multiple times a day can be easily overlooked. Fall is a time to practice showing gratitude towards those that make this cam-pus thrive day by day with their hard work and beautiful minds. Vivacious and creative, Swan-son is one among those hidden figures who should be uncovered.