The elusive white-haired Kermode bear—also known as the “Spirit Bear”—resides in the lush temperate rainforest of coastal British Columbia, rarely observed by human eyes despite its bright pelt. The rare white coat of the Kermode—antithetically still a subspecies of the normally dark-furred American black bear—contrasts starkly with the myriad shades of green found throughout the rich forests of the Pacific Northwest. The Kermode is a favourite subject in modern wildlife photography and Canadian art history alike.

Canadian painter and Quest alum Mathias Horne takes this contrast to greater heights in a new painting of the Kermode bear, based on the photography of Spirit Bear Lodge Lead Guide Jack Plant, emphasizing the luminous glow of its bright coat against a dark background, like a silhouette of rarity.

The painting was commissioned by Quest University, which takes the Kermode bear as its unofficial “mascot animal” and namesake of a number of its facilities and student organizations.

Horne unveiled his Spirit Bear painting at an intimate celebratory event on Thursday, April 7th to an awed audience of students, faculty, and the public. The Quest Atrium, where Horne’s painting hangs on permanent display, was transformed to take on the ambience of an art studio lounge for the occasion.

Tim Schoahs, Executive Director of Alumni and Donor Relations at Quest, collaborated with Horne to launch the Biodiversity Resilience Scholarship designed for third- and fourth-year Quest students with Keystone projects centered on biodiversity, environmentalism, and species conservation and resilience.

Schoahs said that he initially commissioned Horne to create a custom art piece to “show off” Quest’s alumni talent. The collaboration with the artist turned into a scholarship when Horne proposed the idea that funds could be raised if the community had an opportunity to buy replications of the Kermode Bear painting.

Schoahs said that “during one of our meetings, while looking at potential images, I said, “I’d love to get a print when it’s done!” That’s when the penny dropped! If I was interested in a print, there would certainly be others!”

High-quality prints of Horne’s Spirit Bear painting were on sale during the event and raised over $10,000 toward the scholarship that evening alone.

Horne said that the name of the scholarship was inspired by a series of conversations with Oceans North’s International Policy Advisor and 2019 alum: Nicole Zanesco, and symbolizes an approach to biodiversity that centers the tenacity of endangered species rather than a paternalistic human drive to control or master them.

“It felt fitting to put an emphasis on biodiversity and resilience” Horne said. “The word resilience encapsulates what I want the scholarship to represent.” Funding the scholarship through proceeds from art prints echoes the values of Horne’s partnership with other wildlife organizations and environmentalist community partners, where a percentage of the art’s revenue is donated right back to conservation initiatives.

Art and the Question of Biodiversity

As a student, Mathias Horne’s Question concerned the function of art to tell stories. During his Keystone Project, Horne drew on the story-telling power of art by creating an illustrated book depicting human impacts and habitat loss in Canada. The project aimed to create dialogue around various animal populations adapting to life in urban environments.

Horne continues to use his artwork as a catalyst for wildlife protection. Since graduating from Quest, he has partnered with a range of global environmental non-governmental organizations, including the Grizzly Bear Foundation, the Leatherback Trust, Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, Oceans North, and the High Seas Alliance.

Most recently, Horne is collaborating with The High Seas Alliance on a campaign promoting the establishment of Marine Protected Areas under the new United Nations Treaty for Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), which once ratified, will oversee the protection of marine biodiversity in international waters. Horne is forming an exhibition focused on ambassador species from each potential MPA to shed light on important ecosystems outside the protection of state laws.

Making Connections at Quest

Receiving an interdisciplinary education at Quest has been an important stepping-stone in Horne’s art process, which requires close cooperation with a range of field experts. Horne creates his hyper-realistic paintings from reference imagery provided by wildlife photographers, but his process has also involved collaborations ranging from consultations with deep-sea scientists to conversations with backcountry guides who might be familiar with the particular animal he is painting.

“I want my artwork to represent the work and causes of a variety of scientists and fields. Art is really a great gateway to topics that are often overlooked by the general populace,” Horne said.

Horne explained that the model of education offered at Quest builds bridges between art and science.

“Quest trains you by pulling from different disciplines and different ways of thinking,” Horne said. “It allows you to see how the Arts and Sciences are really way more interwoven than what a classical education might teach you.”

While Quest is not a Fine Arts institution, Horne said that as a student he was able to take a visual approach in many classes. He explained that the connections you make at Quest are a vital part of its approach to higher education, and that those connections carry forward into any career path.

Coming full circle, the alum/artist now ensures that those connections—between arts and sciences, students and faculty, and animals and humans—are carried forward through the newly-launched Biodiversity Resilience Scholarship.

Symbolized by the resilient image of the Spirit Bear climbing down out of the shadows, Quest’s scholarship initiative hopes to inspire and propel students passionate about conserving and restoring biodiversity in British Columbia and globally.

If you want to catch a glimpse of that resilience for yourself, Mathias Horne’s Spirit Bear painting is on permanent display in the Quest Atrium.

To find out more about Mathias Horne’s art or support the conservation projects, visit

To contribute to Quest’s Biodiversity Resilience Scholarship, go to

Follow Mathias:

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May 2, 2022 | Contributed by Aline Bouwman
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