[I wrote this in 2002]
By June Morrall
When 87-year-old Coastside artist Galen Wolf died in 1976, the inventory of paintings he left behind could have been created by two different peoploe.
Most them are know as “the Pictures,” and then thre is a small, unique series called “the Legends.”
The “Pictures” are watercolors and some oils, many of them of reflections of Galen’s beloved Coastside. There is also a series devoted to the Peninsula’s famous 19th century mansions, historic California missions and evocative seascapes painted in Mendocino, home to one of his three brothers.
Galen began sketching as early as 1909, and aside from artistic merit, his work may be as valuable to historians as are vintage photographs. His pictures provide a visual history of scenes that may have changed or no longer exist.
This Coastside artist was neither reclusive nor Bohemian. Galen Wolf was outgoing. He loved people and they returned that love. Wearing suspenders and a hat, sometimes a tam o’ shanter, he was an advocate of plein air painting, often sketching on site at remote Tunitas Creek, Mills Mansion in Millbrae, and Mission Dolores in San Francisco.
At his modest studio on rural Frenchman’s Creek Road north of Half Moon Bay, he transformed the smaller drawings into larger pictures.
But Galen’s talents as an artist did not help him in his role as a husband and father. During the desperate years of the Great Depression, he made a decision that forever marked his life: He separated from his wife and their two children, with emotional repercussions for everyone.
We may not know all the reasons for his break with the family but he did fit the description of the classical artist, a free thinker who said what was on his mind, un-fazed by conventional pressures, driven to paint, paint, paint. Galen supported himself painting pictures of people’s homes for a small fee and earned a few dollars teaching students as well.
Outside Galen’s studio on Frenchman’s Creek Road, there was the unusual sight of a avocado tree. Without the help of a tropical climate, the avocado tree thrived through the long summers of endless Coastside foggy days. It flourished, as did Galen, who also seemed like a transplant from a different place.
There was always laughter and chatter in the studio as Galen painted. He had a loyal following. Many–mostly women–made what could only be called “the pilgrimage” to see and hear “the master.” Some of the students were there to learn to paint while others sat his feet and listened to the retelling of Galen’s Coastside Legends. Certainly Galen Wolf would be the first to say he was no guru but all who met the artist revered him and agreed he spun a magic web about Half Moon Bay. Continue reading “In Pictures & Words, Watercolors & Legends, Artist Galen Wolf Left Us the History of the Coastside”