“You hear people say, ‘You really need to grow a backbone.’ So I decided people could use this spine to give them the courage and confidence they need when they are lacking it,” says Tess Griebel.

The former Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA) student is talking about a sculpture called It Saved Her from Osteoporosis. This September, the piece won the regional Yukon category in the 2010 BMO Financial Group’s 1st Art! Invitational Student Art Competition.

The award nets her $2,500 plus honours, and the work is on display at the 1st Art! 2010 exhibition at Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art until October 31.

Griebel created the wire, latex and leather sculpture at SOVA for instructor Veronica Verkley’s 3D class last year.

“We had to make a prosthetic of some kind, and I wanted to create something original,” Griebel says. “Even though prosthetic spines aren’t something people would really consider, I thought it would be really interesting and unique.”

While she had a idea in mind to start, the sculpture formed organically.

“It developed as I went along,” says Griebel. “I began with a wire armature, then painted layers of latex. This allowed it to still bend and curve to different backs. I was really pleased how the wire and latex made this piece come together so well.”

Griebel has a personal connection to It Saved Her from Osteoperosis. “Osteoporosis is hereditary through my family, so I thought I would create something to keep our backs up and straight,” she says.

Griebel moved to Dawson City to study fine art after she had been travelling in Australia. She is now in her second year of fine arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Her main interest is illustration.

“Winning the competition and going into a new school year [has given] me confidence and encouragement,” says Griebel. “As an artist, I am always developing and I have so much to learn, but it makes me feel like I am on the right track.”

The Yukon School of Visual Arts – a joint venture among the Dawson City Arts Society, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, and Yukon College – is a unique first-year arts foundation program. After completing their first year, students may transfer to one of four Canadian arts institutions to complete their degree.

BMO Financial Group’s 1st Art! Invitational Student Art Competition celebrates the creativity of art students across Canada. A selection committee selects a national winner, as well as one winner from each eligible province and territory.

As for the sculptural backbone’s functionality, Griebel says It Saved Her from Osteoporosis has been only been displayed so far. “But it would be neat to see it worn.”