The ermine is my dad’s favorite animal. For those who don’t know what an ermine is (which seems to be a lot of people) it is a short-tailed weasel. In the Colorado mountains where I grew up, we called them weasels in summer (when they were brown) and when the season changed everything to white (including the weasels fur) we called them ermine. Even when ermine are snowy white they keep their black-tipped tail, a protective mechanism meant to throw off predators. The owls and eagles will chase the tail instead of the ermine’s body. Nature lesson complete.
Ermine are elusive critters any time of year, and we’d be excited to catch a glimpse of one. My stoic, undemonstrative dad would break out with a frenzy of exhilaration when any of us saw one. If it’s possible for someone to get a twinkle in one’s eye, my dad got one when a weasel was even mentioned.
I knew this painting would be about Dad, but I wasn’t sure of what concept or inner state it would speak of. Just before I started it, my husband, Scott had an ermine encounter while fishing in Colorado, and he took photos that I used for the panting.
Although the ermine in the photo was up to his belly in snow, I wanted to depict him in a scene more surreal. I’d been experimenting with animals partially submerged in liquid, and milk seemed the best alternative simply because it’s white. The sky in the background is meant to be peaceful but the clouds form a big zigzag slashing through the piece. As I painted the ermine and milk and zigzag cloud I saw a relationship emerge. Since milk tends to represent the idea of Mother, and the ermine reminds me of Dad, I couldn’t help but reflect on both my parents.The soft, pale colors and stillness of the liquid are gentle and calm, but the shape of the cloud slices a dynamic from like the mark of Zorro. As the painting emerged I recognized that it represented my current relationship with my parents.
The tranquil tone of the piece accurately depicts how I feel about my parents at this time of my life. I delight in my interactions with them. The sound of their voices, their familiar mannerisms and phrases, the unique and powerful part they’ve played in my life all strike me when we talk or are together.
The dramatic cloud shape hovers in the background. It’s like a battle scar, a reminder of the growing pains of life. I have been a headstrong, independent, and critical person in my life. There were times when I didn’t understand (especially until I had a child) that my parent’s intentions were well-meant, and their abilities were not superhuman. I blamed them for a while for the imperfect person I turned out to be. But eventually I used those uncomfortable emotions to learn more about myself, and find freedom in moving on from blame, shame, and separation. The subdued quality of the clouds offer a softening, as if a thunder storm has given way to beauty. What remains is calm, but distinctive.
In the end this painting is about forgiveness and healing.