By Lydia Zilinsky – Collegiate Staff
Gretchyn Lauer, 27, became this year’s two-dimensional public vote winner in ArtPrize for her canvas oil painting, “Outcry.” Lauer is a Grand Rapids Community College piano student, and her winning piece featured a portrait of a girl from Cambodia who was rescued out of sex trafficking.
Lauer already has a degree in Biblical Studies, but plans on finishing an additional degree in piano at the University of Michigan. She currently teaches piano weekly to students at The Piano Cottage.
She originally began her painting three years ago, dedicating thousands of hours to the details. She had only done a few oil paintings before, but never one of this size. She knew the oils and layers take weeks and even months to dry. She explained that she is not an artist professionally and did not have intention of entering ArtPrize. Her family and friends encouraged her to enter.
Lauer said after arguing, she agreed to think and pray about it and laughingly said, “You know when you pray about something, everything changes.”
She explained that she felt God tell her to do a portrait, and although she didn’t know what to paint at first, she wanted something that was about someone else and to share their story. She then went to the art store and got the biggest canvas she could find.
From her experience at Bible college, she had made friends who are a part of filming a documentary, “Finding Home,” for an international organization called Rapha House, which helps rehabilitate trafficked girls and help them spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The documentary focuses on individual stories rather than shocking statistics, and Lauer asked to have a picture of one of the girls crying.
Her subject had been sold into trafficking when she was only fourteen. Lauer was able to make contact with her and found she was excited to have her face painted.
Lauer chose to have her crying rather than one of the more shocking images associated with sex trafficking.
“How can I create something appropriate and inspiring, something that will move people, but also keep from victimizing them further,” Lauer said.
“I don’t want people to see the violence first, I want the to see the emotional aftermath… I wanted people to be able to connect, and most people can connect with kids crying, because nobody wants to see a kid who’s been hurt.”
Lauer explained the surreal experience of the reactions of audiences, as thousands of people walked away with tears in their eyes.
“It’s humbling to think how people can be touched by art and something that you did,” Lauer reflects, “But…it’s weird, because it’s not something that I did, God told me to do it and helped me be able to.”
Lauer also won $20,000 with the public vote, and she plans to tithe to her church, help pay for her school tuition, and donate to help sex trafficking organizations.
She plans to continue with her degree, and still paint and do artwork in her spare time, but says that winning has not changed her overall goals.
Lauer hopes that with her piece she inspires and continues to inspire people to raise awareness about sex trafficking all over the world and in Michigan.
Stephen Barton, director of choral activities at GRCC, has been very impressed with Lauer as both a student, and an artist.
“She practices all the time, and just the story of that is amazing,” Barton said.
“From what I understand she is a self taught artist…she is just one of those students where everything is done with complete thoroughness and thoughtfulness. She is a high achiever…I don’t see how she puts it all together.”