- Story by Sandra Jones Photography by Don Denton
Perhaps it was simply the imaginative pursuits of a youngster or an indicator of what was yet to come, but Vedrana Ascroft’s first work of art was drawn with her mother’s greasy, crimson lipstick on a wall in her childhood home in Ogulin, Croatia.
“I was probably three years old and it was my first masterpiece,” laughs Vedrana, an award-winning artist and owner of Aquamaris Art Gallery in Duncan.
As the daughter of a teacher who was creative in her own right, Vedrana’s childhood was richly steeped in cultural and artistic pursuits.
“My mom was a math teacher, but she was always doing something creative, from making lace to designing costumes for theatre groups. And at school we learned a lot about almost every artistic medium,” she recalls.
That immersion in the arts had an impact on young Vedrana. “I was bitten. I knew that I could ‘zen out’ when I was creating something and anything that was concerning me at the time would disappear.”
But although her love of art grew, it met its match when she went on a school vacation with her mom.
“I wanted to be the woman at the front of the tour bus with a microphone in her hand showing people the sights,” says Vedrana.
The travel bug took hold and Vedrana pursued a degree in hotel management in Opatija, Croatia. Just two years into the program, war broke out, prompting accelerated work towards a diploma in economy of tourism, before the 20-year-old emigrated to Sudbury, Ontario, to live with family. There she furthered her studies and charted a new course that took her to Toronto and across Canada.
While she ultimately went on to enjoy a 27-year career in the tourism industry, mainly as a tour director “at the front of the bus,” Vedrana continued to paint.
“Art was something I could count on to help me regain my equilibrium. My focus on art would ebb and flow, but I was always yearning to paint and draw on the side.”
In 1997, Vedrana met her future husband, Gerry, moved to the west coast and was re-inspired to pick up her art again.
“We fell in love with Vancouver Island and knew that this was the place our family needed to be. Water is always something that has inspired me—shorelines, rivers, waterfalls—the way the light plays across it is mesmerizing. That’s why waterscapes often appear as a theme in my paintings.”
Her work as a tour director in the summer left her the winter months to pursue her art. Despite splitting her time between these two passions, Vedrana became an active status member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and her art began to garner international recognition. Her painting, Pacific Rhapsody, was published as one of the finalists in the International Artist Magazine and her work has found its way into homes in Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.
In 2019, Vedrana made a life-altering decision that was serendipitously prompted by getting her hair cut.
“I had always felt that at some point I would open an art gallery but how that came about was by having a vision. I went to get a haircut and there was a vacant space in the same building. It just hit me that this would make an amazing gallery. At first it didn’t occur to me that we should be the ones to create the gallery but I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
Several months later, after extensive renovations, Aquamaris Art Gallery opened its doors. Situated on the second floor of a century-old designated heritage building, the original wooden floors, brick walls and light-filled space form a warm and inviting backdrop for myriad art that lines the walls.
“I wanted to create a venue where art appreciators and artists would have a place to come and enjoy that immersive experience. We carry the work of 20 BC artists who we chose specifically because we’ve admired their work for years. Every piece we carry, whether it’s a painting, sculpture, textile or jewelry, is carefully curated.”
While the artists currently reside in the region, their origins are widely cosmopolitan, coming from places like Indonesia, South Korea, England, Germany, Serbia and the United States. Clients are equally international and often work closely with Vedrana to find just the right piece for their space.
“Particularly now, with the limitations of travel, our customers will send us photos of a space and ask us to recommend art to complement it,” says Vedrana. “I’ll keep my eyes open and then digitally style their home photo with art so they can see how it looks in the space. I recently did that for a woman who lives in Chemainus and it was exactly what she was looking for. We get people shopping online from as far away as the UK.”
But of course there’s no substitute for viewing the art in person.
“Our doors are open and with such an airy space, there’s room for people to move comfortably and safely in the gallery. The pandemic has been hard on the art and gallery world because it traditionally relies on well-attended art openings and live events to showcase and sell the work. However we are encouraged by a renewed focus on home and on supporting and shopping local.”
For Vedrana, the world of art has provided a creative outlet, a renewed sense of purpose and a new livelihood, but she believes that art is also integral to the wellbeing of people on so many levels.
“Exposure to art fosters creativity, tickles our imaginations and inspires innovation. And above all, it connects us to our humanity. I think now, more than ever, when the world needs more beauty, art plays a significant role. I’m honoured to play a part in bringing that beauty to more people.”