Family Portraits

Back in November, when I moved my things into the house in Seattle, there was still a lot of building out that had to happen before I could start to work with any physical media—storage space for my artwork and supplies, and then the physical studio space itself. That building could only progress as far and as fast as my budget would support, and my body would handle. So, after many slow, deliberate, but ever-forward months, it was a real joy when the paints and pastels emerged at last in late April.

My youngest sister turned fifty in May, and one day before that, her daughter graduated from High School. Almost twenty years ago, I promised my sisters to render them as Madonnas, based on an ex-voto I had painted for my Grandmother Maney when she became terminally ill. Hers was the Catholic branch of the family (La Abuela Pietà was also made for her).

As a rancher, my sister Jami is on call 24/7, in a constant cycle of tending to one life or another, responding to one crisis or another, one change in the elements or another. The Spanish part of the blessing translates Thank god for my sister, younger by ten years. Thank you for making her a mother, fierce as a bear, but without the deadly claws.

At Christmas my sister Bert caught Jami’s daughter, Rhiannon, camping it up with with a fleece jacket. We all recognize the mythology, right? The Meryl Streep French Lieutenant’s Woman/Lara Dr. Zhivago face? Lost, beautiful, passive…and powerless in the world of men. Irresistible. Ideal, according to the same mythology that brought us the Virgin Mary.

The joke is the same, in both portraits: Murdochs (and Kalstas) don’t do passive.