How I made a portrait of famous Canadian artist Robert Bateman

It was totally spontaneous!

Twenty or so years ago, I was visiting friends on Salt Spring Island, off the coast of British Colombia. These friends had five or six years old daughter.

Those who know me know I like to entertain kids, especially when they tend to get board and cranky being with a group of adults. So I pay some attention to them by introducing them to my “pet weasel;” a little hand puppet I make by putting my hand in some cloth and moving it about like a little animal.

My little weasel puppet impressed the daughter and for a good deal of time she insisted I make the pet weasel talk funny and sing songs. I must admit that her parents were quite happy that I kept their child occupied, especially when we were in transit to visit their friend “Uncle Bob” Bateman.

It was a very nice visit and Uncle Bob was quite cordial to me; showed me around his house and newly created faux rock garden and lawn fountain. Naturally, the group conversation gravitated to conservation and art history (I was really enjoying this educational conversation with a world-renowned artist, especially about modern and contemporary art).

I could see that my friend’s little girl was getting visibly fidgety and bored. Then, out of the blue, she demands in a loud voice, “show Uncle Bob your weasel!”

Dead silence…embarrassed; I thought I’d melt into his newly installed wide-plank living room pine floor. I was convinced Uncle Bob would think I was some kind of weird pervert. He stared at me in silence for what seemed a millennia.

Then he said, “let me show you my weasel,” and exited the room (what the hell?). Moments later he returned with this animal-like contraption the size of a cat which somehow had a coiled spring inside its body, which he called…his weasel! Like a kid himself, he squeezes the weasel and then releases it and it flew across the room.  Then he said, “how do you like Uncle Bob’s weasel?” That blew my mind and cleared my hyper embarrassment and anxiety.

Then he asked if I wanted to see a painting he was currently working on, ushered me into his studio and stood proudly beside it. I happened to have a point and shoot camera around my neck. I pointed to it and stupidly asked “may I?” Since we were weasel pals, he said, “of course.” Uncle Bob and I arrived at a rapport through our pet weasels. I shot one frame and that’s how I came to do a portrait of Robert Bateman.

Epilogue: I subsequently sent him a note thanking him for his hospitality and complimented him on his weasel.  Some time later I received a lovely signed print and a note complimenting me on my weasel and expressed enjoyment in comparing our weasels.


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