A Yorkton-born artist was announced this month as the winner of a British Columbia talent contest designed to promote an environmental cause.
Laura Wasylyshen, who grew up in Yorkton and lived here until 1995, had her painting "Spirit in the Water" chosen as the winning entry of the "Great Bear's Got Talent" contest on July 12.
The contest, organized by ForestEthics Solutions, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club BC, was an initiative aimed at promoting the preservation of the Great Bear Rainforest in BC. Wasylyshen's entry was shortlisted by online voters and then chosen by a selection committee from among more than 100 submissions from around the world.
Wasylyshen, who has lived in Vancouver for the last decade, says she was surprised to learn of the unique rainforest located just north of her city. After hearing about the contest, she began to research the Great Bear Rainforest.
"The more I learned, the more I knew what I wanted to paint, because it was so inspiring."
Great Bear Rainforest is home to the world's only population of Kermode bears, also known as "spirit bears," a subspecies of the black bear whose members are sometimes born with white coats. As few as 400 Kermode bears are thought to remain in the world.
As her painting's subject, Wasylyshen chose a spirit bear fishing for salmon. The vivid image earned the most public votes of any entry into the contest and won over the judges.
Wasylyshen has had a lifelong interest in both art and environmental causes. She recalls leading a Greenpeace fundraiser while in junior high school in Yorkton to protect 500 acres of Brazilian rainforest.
The artist was also featured in shows at the Godfrey Dean and Prairie Contacts art galleries during her time in Saskatchewan.
Wasylyshen's prize from the Great Bear's Got Talent contest is a five-day trip into the Great Bear Rainforest to see the spirit bears and the other sights of the forest firsthand.
"I plan on making a short documentary film about my trip up there and back. I'm just that excited to go," she says.
Images of Wasylyshen's painting will be used in promotional material in the contest organizers' campaign to save the rainforest. Supporters of the campaign can visit www.takeittaller.ca to sign a petition calling for greater protection from logging for the Great Bear Rainforest.
Wasylyshen has been overwhelmed by requests from strangers for prints of her winning painting.
"There's been such a demand, … so of course I'm going to make prints," she says.
Wasylyshen works in agriculture and did not attend art school, but has made a sizeable second income operating art galleries and selling her paintings in various cities.
"I feel like the luckiest artist on the planet sometimes."