Weekly Local Biography

  Galen Garwood

Galen 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 there.

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.