It was in the summer of 2020 when Killarney resident, Betty Sawatzky, saw a family photograph that stole her heart. Since illustrating the scene through charcoal drawing, she has turned the picture into a multiple award-winning charcoal art piece.

"Our second son, Brian and his family were tenting in our back yard for the weekend, and while he was reading their 3 boys a bedtime story, his wife, Miranda, opened the tent flap, and snapped the picture with her phone," explains Sawatzky.  "It was a beautiful shot that just melted my heart.  I immediately saw this as a perfect reference photo for a charcoal piece, and as I started working on it over the following weeks, the idea came to me to add a whimsical touch!  What if Brian was reading the story of the 3 Bears to his 3 boys, and I included the bears in the piece!"

"The real fun part of the picture is that Brian and the boys are so engrossed in the storytelling they're oblivious to the bears behind them - who are also caught up in the suspense of the story!  So much fun to do," adds Sawatzky.  "The picture shares the loving bond between a father and his sons, all of them caught up in the adventure, with the grizzlies behind them!  It turned out exactly as I imagined! - It doesn't always work out that way," she laughs.

Since then, the piece named, 'Storytime Adventures with Dad' has caught the attention of exhibition jurors and the public.  In spring of 2022, the charcoal piece won the People's Choice Award at the Westman Juried Art Show.  It was included in the 2022-2023 Westman Travelling Art Gallery and in the 2022 Manitoba Rural and Northern Juried Show (MRNJAS) through the Manitoba Arts Network. 

MRNJAS is an in-person and online exhibition held in September, featuring award-winning artwork by 60 rural and northern Manitoba artists (the top 10 artworks from each region) selected by professional jurors from the regional juried art shows held across Manitoba each year.   Sawatzky's 'the bears and the boys' picture (affectionately named) landed second place with a monetary award.

Last month Sawatzky entered the charcoal drawing in the Manitoba Society of Artists' Province-wide Open Juried Competition and Exhibition (OJCE).  It's the 91st year for the OJCE, an annual event for the artist community which provides all Manitoba artists, novice and professional, to participate in a juried competition where they compete for exhibit space and recognition.  

Out of 170 pieces, 70 were chosen for the short-list which will be on display at the Eagleridge One Five Exhibitions gallery in Winnipeg, June 1-30. Of the 70 pieces, the jury selected 12 awards for special recognition, with Sawatzky's charcoal piece claiming the Barbara Cook Endres Award First Place.

"I was shocked and thrilled and overwhelmed," shares Sawatzky.  "It's amazing to win this award!  I don't know what to say.  All the submissions were incredible, from painting to drawing to sculpture and fibre-art, beautiful pieces!  So, yes, I'm thrilled to receive this.  This was my first time in this exhibition, so it was a huge surprise!"

The Barbara Cook Endres Award for First Place was named in 2012 to honour Manitoba artist and long-time MSA member, Barb Endres, who was an unflagging supporter of the visual arts. Barb joined MSA in 1947 and served in various executive positions continuously until her retirement in 2008. She was designated an honorary member in 2006. Upon her passing in 2010, she left a bequest to MSA, which allows a bursary to promising artist students. There is no stipulation attached to this award, it is therefore at the jurors’ discretion, The Best of Show.

Sisters in law, Betty Sawatzky (Killarney) and Nancy Penner (Boissevain) are each delivering two of their favorite pieces this weekend to the Winnipeg gallery at Eagleridge Court for the June exhibit.  Penner will be showcasing her beautiful encaustic pieces where she uses colored wax to create breathtaking landscapes and seascapes.  Sawatzky's second piece, 'Helping Hands on a Son's Special Day,' features a father helping his son with his tie on his wedding day.

"It has been so much fun sharing these art exhibitions with my sister (in-law) Nancy," adds Sawatzky.  "Having our pictures showcased with these amazing artists' artwork in the Eagleridge gallery in this exhibition is truly an honor and an absolute delight!  I told Brian to bring the boys to the gallery so they could see themselves up on the wall with the bears"

To see all entries (the long-list), as well those that will be on display at Eagleridge One Five Exhibition (the short-list), plus award-winners, please click on the link below and follow the menu at the top of that page.

Manitoba Society of Artists – Open Juried Competition and Exhibition (

(Photo below:  Boissevain resident, Nancy Penner poses with one of her encaustic (melted, colored wax) pictures)