One thousand dollars for eight hours of work isn’t too shabby by most people’s standards, and that’s what Ashland High School junior Salus True could be awarded when the Western Governors Association announces its “Celebrate the West” high school art competition winners later this month.

Not that True, 17, was only in it for the money when, scanning the web for scholarship opportunities in april, she stumbled across a notice about the WGA’s second annual art contest. Judging entries from 19 Western states as well as American Samoa, Guam and Northern Mariana Islands, the WGA selects one two-dimensional original artwork “inspired by their state or informed by living in the West” from each of the 22 zones as finalists for cash prizes — $1,000 for first place, $500 for second and $300 for third.

True, who already locked up at least $200 when her acrylic painting of Crater Lake was selected as Oregon’s winner, will have to wait until the WGA meets June 26-28 in Whitefish, Montana, to find out if her painting, titled “Perpetual,” is recognized as one of the top three. WGA staff and Denver area art experts will select grand-prize, second-place and third-place winners, and at the meeting a Best of Show award will be determined by a vote of meeting attendees, which include governors and their staff, U.S. Cabinet members and WGA sponsors.

“It’ll definitely be on my mind,” said True, in the last week of her first year at AHS after completing her first two years of high school through the Oregon Connections Academy, a virtual school. “I’m a little nervous. It would be great if I won but I know that there’s just so much talent out there and honestly I won’t be upset if I don’t win. It’s such an honor just to win the state title. But it would still be great to get first place, because then I can kind of show off Oregon.”

Painting has been True’s primary hobby since her mom, a hobbyist painter herself, encouraged her to pick up a brush as a 1-year-old. Once she found the WGA’s ad, the only question was what to paint, but that proved to be an easy decision for True.

“Crater Lake is so iconic to Oregon that I had to paint it,” she said. “I was kind of thinking about something maybe that has to do with Ashland, like Emigrant Lake or maybe something that has to do with Shakespeare, but I felt like Crater Lake just exemplified Oregon more.”

True had visited Crater Lake before but didn’t make a special trip before painting the painting, instead opting to find a picture online from which to draw inspiration. Using acrylic on canvas, True chose to render Crater Lake just as the sun is beginning to sink below the horizon, casting a burnt-orange sunset below a range of billowing cumulus clouds. Dark pines jut up in the foreground, but most of the lower half of the painting is the lake itself, including Wizard Island.

“It’s kind of realistic but also a little bit interpretive,” she said of the 18- by 24-inch painting, “because the clouds are hyper-realistic.”

Working on it from home, little by little, True estimates that it took her about six to eight hours to complete the painting, after which she felt satisfied with the result.

“I think I did it to the best of my ability,” she said.

True submitted the painting via a high-resolution photo which she emailed to the WGA. Two weeks ago she heard back and was stunned to find out her painting was judged Oregon’s best entry.

“I didn’t know how to process it and I’m kind of at a loss right now,” she said. “It’s hard to comprehend.”

Her Ashland High art teacher, Sam Scharf, could tell immediately that True was already a skillful painter when she arrived in his drawing/painting class earlier this school year.

Describing True as quietly driven, Scharf said he admired True’s dedication to her craft.

“What I noticed right away is that she has some artistic talent and she works hard at it,” Scharf said. “She took projects home and made sure they got finished to the best of her ability, and really had a lot of good attention to detail.

“And she spends a lot of extra time in my classroom. I open my room a couple days a week during lunch and often Salus comes in there and works on projects or works on other things, or just finds a quiet place to read or do some art work. And she reads a ton. She’s always got a book in her bag and when she finishes something she’s not a kid that gets distracted and pulls out her phone; she pulls out a book and reads a lot — and she seems to often be reading books about psychology, not your typical teenage books. She seems to want to educate herself.”

Indeed, True is planning on studying psychology in college — she hasn’t decided where she’ll go to school yet, but University of Oregon is high on the list — and believes counseling would be a great career path.

"I'm a people person and I really love to chat with people," she said. "I love psychology and my library is filled with books on psychology. I just think it's a great way to help people."

— Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.