Joshua Hansen comes running out of the forest as a canoe-sized log fell down, smashing to the ground behind him. He had just been using a chainsaw to clear a broken treetop that had snapped off the night before. He was OK, just out of breath and covered in dust when he came up the stairs to his patio.
Hansen is the recent winner of the 2020 Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) saltwater salmon stamp contest. Out of a blue background, a Chinook salmon lunges forward, hunting for krill among stalks of kelp that sway in the current. Hansen’s piece, titled “Untouchable” refers to both the undeniable status of the fish as king of salmon, and to the fact that Chinook salmon are off-limits to anglers for part of the season. His work was one of 20 pieces that were up for judging in 2019.
It was the kind of scene that people would expect from an award-winning artist.
Every year, PSF holds an art contest to choose the piece that represents the next year’s stamp. Anglers will recognize the stamp as the colourful painting printed on federal fishing licenses that allows them to keep the salmon they catch. Those wanting to catch and keep salmon have to pay for the stamp. That money goes towards helping salmon enhancement programs across the coast. Through stamp purchases and sales of the winning prints, the program has raised over $16-million for community projects since it started in 1989.
Both art and fishing have been a part of Hansen’s life since he was a young child. He lives and works in Oyster River, and his family has been in the fishing industry for generations, he has history on the coast going back almost 100 years. He has seen the stamps on licences for years, but never thought about how they were selected.
“I didn’t know until about a year ago that it was actually an art contest. It was through my favourite artist Mark Hobson that I learned about it,” Hansen said. “He had some write-ups on his paintings and that’s when I realized there was an art contest every year. I wanted to find out more information about it and see if I could contribute.”
The award was presented at a gala in Vancouver last November, but Hansen decided not to attend. True to form, he was hunting at the time of the awards, and only found out he had won after coming in from the bush.
“I’m not a very social person, so I figured if I was there and all this went down I don’t know what I would do with myself,” he explained. “I usually take a week off to hunt, just to get some meat in the freezer every year. My wife and son were visiting her folks in the Rocky Mountains, so I was home alone, hunting every day and trying to fill the freezer. They called me one morning after a pretty frustrating hunt. I just assumed that they were calling me to tell me that so and so had won or whatever.
“They said ‘hey you won!’ I was like ‘What? I won? No way!’ I don’t think it sunk in until after hunting season was even over. It was a pretty wild feeling,” he added.
The outdoors are a big inspiration for Hansen. From the front door of his home, the river is only a few metres away. He can see the water from the window in his studio, and it is hard to imagine a better place for him to paint the way he does. Vintage and new books on the outdoors and homesteading line the shelves of the Hansen home, which also serve to inspire the painter. He describes his style as “West Coast,” and his works include things like his grandfather’s fishing boat, bears hunting for crabs on the beach, and birds along the shoreline. Hansen explained that he spends most of his downtime in the winter painting. However, as the weather warms up he is pulled more and more to the outdoors and to the water.
“The love of salmon has gone back in my family for a long time. My great-great-grandpa came from Norway, and we have a place up the coast that’s still in the family. A lot of my family members have been commercial fishermen and sport fishermen on the side. Even I worked very briefly on my grandfather’s boat as a deckhand,” he said. “Salmon is such a huge food source for all of us. I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to give back a little bit.”
Hansen hopes the stamp will help him get some recognition and legitimacy as an artist. He explained that until an artist has a win under their belts, it is hard to convince people of their work’s value. Having a painting that thousands of people will buy, albeit a very small version, over the course of the year will probably help with that.
“It’s kind of a crazy feeling to think that something I created out of just paint and a canvas is raising that much money to help our salmon stocks,” he said.
The stamp became available on fishing licenses on April 1.
Hansen’s work can be found at https://www.joshuahansenart.com.