Garwood, soft-spoken gentleman, is a musician, artist, poet,
writer, teacher, and a humanitarian. Born in the USA in Georgia,
he spent many of his growing up years on beautiful St. Simon’s
Island. Galen was the youngest of four children of a talented
but somewhat eccentric pianist Mom, and attended a new school
every time his mother changed jobs. She played the piano at
night but slept most of the day, so by the time he entered first
grade Galen was independent enough to take care of himself.
When he was 16, his mother moved to Alaska to
play ragtime piano in an old fashioned saloon. He joined her and
worked there for the summer. Back in Georgia, he graduated from
high school and enrolled in the University of Georgia. Then he
transferred to the University of Alaska with a double major in
art and music and a minor in English. He couldn’t decide
whether he wanted to sing or paint. It had been a lifetime
dilemma since his mother first asked him what he wanted to be
when he was only seven years old. He didn’t know that he would
also become a writer and a poet.
Before he graduated, he and a friend decided
to take a year off and travel. They went to Japan, hitchhiked
all over the country, and found the Japanese people to be
incredibly kind and generous. In 1969 they took a ship to
Bangkok, and encountered a fascinating, exotic city, very
different from Japan. By the time they ran out of money, their
year off had turned into a year of cultural studies. They had
created their own education. They returned to Alaska, but Galen
decided it was a dead-end location for an artist. He moved to
Seattle where he began to restore antiques and paint.
He was invited to affiliate with the
prestigious Foster White Galleries there, and began a career
that included shows in the USA and Europe. The Wells Fargo Bank
and the Bank of Switzerland in San Francisco were among the
corporations that purchased his paintings. His work also went
into private collections such as those of Edward Albee, the C.
David Weyerhausers and the Wally Barclays.
But Galen is an introspective man, a thinker,
and he grew weary of the city. He moved to a small town, and
bought a commercial building that he remodeled into both
residence and studio. He created a space for prot้g้s
to work, and founded Marrowstone Arts to encourage young
artists. And he painted. At one point he needed a college
degree. He visited a professor of art at the University of
Washington and negotiated 13 art credits in exchange for
creating an 8 foot by 32 foot painting. The professor liked his
work, and he got his degree.
The degree opened doors that allowed him to
be an Artist in Residence at many locations. He found it to be
an intensely rewarding experience. He believes that children are
untaught creativity in modern western culture. He helped his
students find art and creativity inside themselves again. He
helped them discover that art is a state of being, not simply
paint applied to canvas or clay molded. He wanted them to
connect to the spirit of art.
The trend from pure art to commercial art
invaded his world. Discouraged, he took a respite from the world
of commercial art in 1996.
Then Galen Garwood had an epiphany that
connected him to Chiang Mai, Thailand. He picked up a 1998 Smithsonian
Magazine and began reading an article on the plight of the
Asian elephant. By the time he finished it, he was in tears. He
knew he could help but didn’t know how. So he wrote to the
elephant hospital in Lampang, “I’m coming to help”. Then
he began to free himself of everything he owned in preparation
for his move. He says he sold it or gave it away, bought a video
camera, and came to Thailand. He connected with the elephant
hospital and began filming and collecting data. His project
evolved and he changed its focus from the people who are helping
the elephants to the elephants themselves. He met a mahout and a
beautiful female elephant named Panom. Panom is Thai for the
gesture of the wai. Panom became the name of his
independent film project. All profits from the project go to the
support of elephant conservation and the elephant hospital in
Lampang. Galen considers elephants to be a metaphor for all
animals that are in trouble.
Because Seattle faces Asia, there is a strong
Asian influence in the art world there. Galen is open to these
influences and incorporates Buddhism into his work as well as
Thai script. He says that Thai script is melodic and fluid, and
that it reflects the music of the language. He calls his art a
product of his own spiritual evolution.
He continues to mentor young artists, who
sometimes don’t even realize they are artists. He hired Chang
Lek, a young Akha, to help around the studio. Chang Lek had no
formal training in art, but decided to try his hand at painting
when Galen wasn’t around. Galen acknowledges that his first
painting was not good, but decided to encourage Chang Lek and to
avoid imposing any Western ideas on him. As the young artist’s
talents unfolded, he produced work that his mentor calls
“lyrical abstraction”. A local showing was followed by his
paintings being shipped to the USA and some were sold at shows
Galen’s next project is to take art to Akha
children. He plans to teach and encourage, as he always does.
And he plans to show and sell their art at his studio. The
proceeds will benefit both the children and the elephants, and
Galen will have encouraged the artistic process as well as
taught the children about compassion for animals. “People”,
he says, “are not the only important beings on the planet”.
Meet him at www.galenga rwood.com. It’s important.