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Painting is Galvan’s ‘God gift’

Currently on display at the Farmington Public Library is the artwork of Farmington resident Vada Galvan, a veteran artist who has painted for more than 50 years.

“I started out as a decorative painter,” she said. “I became a member of the Society of Decorative Painters and belonged to a chapter in St. Louis. Decorative painting has to be on a useful surface.

“If you go back to the beginning of our country, decorative painting was the first art form that came to this country. The itinerants came in from Italy and France and painted on household goods and did charcoal drawings of people that lived here. Rufus Porter was one of the more famous ones and you can see his stuff in museums.”

As a result, Galvan became a decorative arts teacher in 2003. She acknowledged that she has been fortunate to take classes from well-known decorative painters from around the world.

“I would go to their conventions and they were really interesting,” she said. “You may have someone from South America or Japan teaching the class, but they would have interpreters in there.”

In order to display her artwork in galleries, she has moved away from decorative painting and into portraiture. Each section in the display is of a different type of subject. Her work is eclectic, fanning off in many different directions. One of them is western-themed art based upon her youth. Galvan was born and raised on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming where her father worked in the oilfields.

“That’s one of the reasons for that section,” she said. “That lives in my heart and it’s my home and where my family all live. (Husband) Ben and I met here in Missouri, but he’s from Montana. I’ve been in Missouri going on 60 years, so I feel like a local.”

Another section on display is fantasy art painted in acrylic that shows fanciful troll-type figures on print backgrounds.

Galvan has won several awards for her work over the years. This year, Galvan painted a mule from a photograph and entered it into the Art is Ageless competition at Presbyterian Manor.

“I took best of show with him,” she said. “Last year I took best of show with a painting of a lady.”

One of her best pieces is featured on Presbyterian Manor’s 2020 calendar. The cover features a sheep and butterfly called “The Beauty and the Fleece.” That year, it was the first painting in the history of the Art is Ageless competition that took two top prizes — judge’s choice and people’s choice.

Vada Galvan's

Vada Galvan’s “The Beauty and the Fleece” served as the cover art for Presbyterian Manor’s 2020 Art is Ageless calendar and also won several other awards.

The painting also placed in the professional category and then advanced to the tri-state level where it was selected for the 2020 calendar cover. Galvan entered the same painting in the Southeast Missouri Art Council competition where it took first place. It was there that she “lost” the painting.

“There, you had to put a price on it,” she said. “I really didn’t want to sell him because I loved him and he lived above my fireplace. One of the ladies said to put a really high price on it. Somebody bought it. It had taken a long time to paint. I painted on it all one summer — I didn’t rush it.”

As with her subjects, Galvan also likes to experiment with different mediums and types of paints.

“There isn’t a particular medium,” she said. “I’m one of those people that likes to hop around. I took a watercolor class and painted one, but I’m not a watercolor painter. I like too much control. I like doing detail.”

Galvan even has a pencil drawing in the display, but she doesn’t do much of those, either.

“I do paint in oil,” she said. “Genesis is my favorite [brand of] paint. I painted a chair with gourds. I worked on it forever — it was a struggle. I love the way it looks. There’s a depth in oils that you do not see in other mediums.”

She added that Genesis paint will not dry until heated to 270 degrees for at least 15 minutes.

“I love doing still life,” Galvan said. “The one thing I don’t do is get outside and paint mountains and stuff. I have a couple of mountains from around here. I like painting animals, but I don’t do it a lot.”

A devout Christian, Galvan and her husband attend First Baptist Church Farmington and her faith is an integral part of her paintings.

“I have called my painting my ‘God gift,’” she said. “I didn’t go to school for it. I was talking to one of my sisters on the phone and she said I was born with a Crayola in my hand. She said she never saw a little kid color like I did. She said I never went out of the lines.

“I feel gifted, I feel blessed. I try to share my gift, I teach an advanced class on Tuesday mornings at the nutrition center. We are on week number five and they are still having a good time, but doing their own thing. It makes me really happy and I feel like my class is a kind of ministry. I tell them we have to pray before we meet.”

When asked about how she decides what to paint, Galvan said she doesn’t really know. “A lot of things I feel are inspired by the Holy Spirit. When I did [The Beauty and the Fleece], all of sudden I got up one morning and this was what I was told to do and even the name was there. That happens once in a while.”

Galvan did a painting a couple of years ago that was of old hands holding a violin and on the curl of the violin is a bird. She borrowed a violin from Music Makers and the hands were of a friend with whom she attends church.

“That was one that I was inspired to do,” she said. “I called it the Maestro’s Duet, because the little bird had his head back.”

Chuckling about having a lot of junk at home, Galvan related that, if she goes to an antique store, she will see an old crock or antique bottle and think she needs to paint it. She also utilizes her library-sized collection of art books.

Galvan is also a member of the Ste. Genevieve Art Guild where she displays some of her work and volunteers. She summed up what she wants people to think of her work.

“I like it to stir something in that person,” she said. “I like it to tell a story or bring back a happy memory. To bring happiness and gentleness — our world doesn’t have enough of either, anymore.”

Farmington Artist Vada Galvan is pictured with her collection of western-themed paintings reflecting her childhood memories of growing up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

Farmington Artist Vada Galvan is pictured with her collection of western-themed paintings reflecting her childhood memories of growing up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at

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