Painting with Paper

Little Compton artist shares the story behind her masterful montages

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Galen V. Snow is many things – avid volunteer, gardener, family person, Airbnb super host – but above all, she’s a full-time artist creating masterpieces out of an unexpected medium: paper.

“My 45-year career was in management in the service/restaurant industry and retail, but I always worked on the side in acrylics, painting murals, wall treatments, decorative furniture, and interior design,” Galen explains. But at the age of 52, she decided to take continuing education courses at RISD while working retail on Bellevue in Newport – a decision she considers both the best and most daunting she’s ever made. Five years later, she earned her certificate in Painting & Drawing, and two years after that, she began her transition to paper.

“It was too cold to paint up in my studio, but I needed a creative outlet,” says Galen, who had just lost her mother-in-law at the time. “So, I sat in my warm living room, picked up scissors, grabbed some glue, and cut out my first sunflower in her memory.”

Galen describes her work as “painting with paper,” or paper montage. She uses high-grade varieties: some from magazines, some handmade and imported from China, Japan, Italy, or France, and some hand-painted. She experiments with layers to create depth and colors. The result is painterly renditions of flora and fauna, with uneven or frayed edges and soft colors and textures, which often take 50-60 hours of tearing, cutting, and pasting to create.

The piece pictured here, Winter Jay, is one such example, inspired by the birds frequenting feeders in Galen’s Little Compton garden during the colder months. While she cites the blue jay’s endless appetite, “obnoxious calls,” and “sassy attitudes,” Galen admires the beauty of their iridescent feathers against the snow. She laughs, admitting it’s “a love/hate relationship!”