There have been many stops on Len Garon’s journey through life: hospital administrator, marketer, corporate motivational speaker, instructor of relaxation techniques, and finally artist/teacher. Or is it the other way around?
Garon, part owner of Gallery G, 215 King St., and official artist of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, has been all these things. But the constant has always been the artist within.
"I try to capture in my paintings that ‘moment in time’ feeling," Garon explained. "I started doing sports art because I wanted to be around really motivated people to learn what kind of attitude they had and how they developed their talent that enabled them to be world-class."
A native of Pueblo, Colo., Garon is a graduate of the University of Colorado with a master’s in public administration, which he put to use as a hospital administrator for 3 1/2 years after graduation. "I always wanted to paint," he said. “But my parents said I couldn't make a living painting, so I better prepare for a real job.”
While working in Denver, he took lessons from Paul Kontny, a local artist. “That was a paradigm shift for me. At the same time I took classes in positive thinking and then started teaching that and relaxation techniques at corporate seminars," Garon said.
"One of the things I learned from Kontny was that it's OK to be diversified. Each painting becomes something new. One of the first things that attracted me was portraiture. I marveled at how artists could capture not only the subject's features but also their souls," Garon said.
GARON LEFT Colorado and studied for 3 1/2 years at the Art Students League in Manhattan. "I went into corporate consulting in self-development training while I was painting on the side," he said.
A friend convinced him to move to the Philadelphia area. It was there in 1976 that he decided to discard his parents' advice and become a full-time artist.
"It was the year of the bicentennial, and everyone said Philly was going to be packed with tourists all summer. So I decided to paint all summer and avoid the hassle. People started buying more than I had painted, and that was it," Garon said.
Now 27 years later, he and his wife, Jane, have a home and studio in Paoli, Pa., on Philadelphia's "Main Line," and in Alexandria. "I commute between them weekly. It's really not a bad trip — about 2 1/2 hours if I don't stop for gas," he noted.
Garon came upon Alexandria almost by accident. "I was coming back from a show in Atlanta four years ago and drove into Alexandria just to look around at the various galleries," he said. That's when he met Dan Geller, owner of The Scottish Merchant and John Crouch Tobacconist, located on the first level of 215 King St.
"I was just walking along the street and met Len, who was carrying some paintings. We struck up a conversation. He got me interested in art. The space above my shop was open, and we thought it would be a good spot for a gallery. That's how we got started in our partnership," Geller said.
"I opened this gallery the weekend of Scottish Walk in 1999," Garon remembered. Today there are five artists who display at Gallery G.
ONE OF THOSE is Susan Pawlukiewicz. She specializes in Lucite carvings with an emphasis on maritime scenes. A native of Connecticut, she is a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point and holds a license to captain a 100-ton ship.
Garon's work also includes maritime influences. One such painting on display in Gallery G depicts an Alexandria scene done on a nautical chart. "Painting in and around Alexandria has been a real treat," he said.
Steve White of Silver Spring, Md., owns one of the nautical chart paintings along with two other originals. "The one on the nautical chart is of St. Michael's, Md. It's very free-flowing. I think Len is a very talented artist," White said.
"I'm a romantic impressionist artist," Garon said. " At least that's how a friend of mine in Philadelphia described me. I try to be very open in my paintings."
Garon still teaches. But now it is art. "We do a lot of teaching at the gallery," he said. "Painting is very different from drawing. There is an alphabet to painting. If you understand that, you can paint."
His art lessons stress a concentration on light. "I teach my students to see light. In my paintings I'm describing light and shadows," he explained.
"For me, art is a visual language through which I speak my dreams. One of my goals with my art is to touch people with life's beauty and motivate them to live their dreams," Garon said.
TWO OTHERS WHO can attest to that analysis are Alexandrian Jim Suprenant and Reston resident Nancy Despeaux. "I am an active purchaser of art, and Len seems to be able to paint a wide range of pieces. I have a castle he painted, as well as several of his sailing pieces," Suprenant said.
"The other thing that is so different about Len is that he really gets involved with his customers. He actually took the time to come to our home, walk us through the procedures he follows to create a painting, and make suggestions about their placement. We own paintings he has created over several years of his development," Suprenant said.
In Despeaux's case, Garon painted her pet miniature poodle. "I had had a previous painting done of the dog that was just terrible, so I was very leery of having it done again. I was braced for the worst," she confided.
"Then when I saw Len's painting, I was amazed. He did a portrait of my dog I'm just crazy about. He really captured my dog's eyes, which are filled with expression," Despeaux emphasized.
ALTHOUGH GARON just completed his fourth year as the official artist for the Legg Mason event and has held the same title with the Senior Tennis Tour as well, he is far from limited to sports art. In addition to a wide range of local scenes, he does landscapes, animals and portraits and is also the official artist for rock ‘n’ roll legend Chubby Checker.
A great believer in "serendipity," Garon is convinced opportunity knocks often. He uses his encounter with Checker as an example.
When he saw a Porsche parked in the "Twister's" driveway with a "for sale" sign and a phone number on it, he decided to call and introduce himself. That led to a painting session while Chubby jammed with his band. Garon soon became Chubby's "official artist."
It was an example of Garon packaging his talent as a marketer with that of artist. Garon’s newsletter is testament to the fact that he has successfully combined his past with his present to build a future.
Garon exhibits his art worldwide, is listed in Who's Who in American Art, and is included in a myriad of collections including the White House.
"We just have to be listening and looking for the clues in order to recognize the opportunities," Garon said.