As we approach the five-month mark of living with a virus that has changed lives in every corner of the globe, people are beginning to adapt to what has been called the “new normal.” Some are handling it better than others and, it seems, those who are handling it best are using this time to discover or rediscover some of the things we lost a bit of focus on back during the “old normal.”
In the early afternoon, when the sun is in the west, the tree-lined streets of Burbank’s Rancho District are the embodiment of residential tranquility. With the exception of the periodic whirring sound that indicates a gardener is plying his trade or the occasional clopping of horse hoofs, this time of day in the city’s equestrian neighborhood is so quiet that artist Mina Ho Ferrante can actually hear the sound of her paint brush sweeping across the canvas.
“I’ve always loved painting scenes of Burbank, and my goal was to someday do paintings of different areas of the city for a show,” said Ferrante. “Not iconic scenes, just sleepy residential streets and corners. The pandemic has given me the time to start doing this. At 4 p.m., when the sun is perfect, I go out, set up my easel and just paint what I see. The scenes I capture are very peaceful ― a dog sleeping in a driveway, a person walking by with their horse. That is the Burbank I love ― my Burbank ― and I love preserving those moments.”
As a young girl growing up in South Vietnam during the war, Ferrante’s life was anything but peaceful. She and her family experienced unimaginable hardships and saw unspeakable atrocities during the fall of Da Nang, which forced her family to flee the only home they knew.
After years of living a semi-nomadic lifestyle in the southern region of South Vietnam, Ferrante followed in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, who had been an artist for the emperor capturing historic moments that occurred during the Nguyen dynasty. She established herself as an artist working with water colors and silk, and by her late teens she had gained notoriety throughout Saigon. Shortly thereafter, when she was 21, Ferrante and her family finally realized their goal of starting a new life in the United States.
In America, Ferrante attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. An outstanding student, she was selected to attend Walt Disney’s Animation Training Boot Camp. At the conclusion of that training she was one of three students who received an offer to work for Disney Feature Animation Studios where, as a background designer, she worked on numerous feature films including “Atlantis,” “Tarzan 2” and “Lilo and Stitch 2.”
Today, the mother of three does commissioned work and is pursuing a master’s degree in modern art history. The author of a 2016 novelette, “Prince of the Sea,” which she also illustrated, she teaches art and, like everyone else, has been trying to adjust to the new normal.
“The first eight weeks of the quarantine I wasn’t teaching. I was just spending time with my kids,” said Ferrante. “I didn’t just rush though my day like I usually do. I really observed what was going on around me. One day, I walked into a room and saw my son Micangelo playing his guitar. I stopped and looked at the way the sun was shining on him and thought how beautiful that moment was. Then I was standing outside and watched my son Joseph-Paul walking up the street with our dog, Teepee. It gave me this incredible sense of serenity, just to watch them.”
Ferrante said she also found herself intrigued by watching her daughter, Angelina, putting her hair up in the messy bun that is currently popular with young girls and by watching the expressions she makes while texting with friends.
“One day, while we were talking, she stopped in mid-sentence to read a text,” Mina recalled. “A hint of a smile came to her face and her eyes took on this dreamy look. I wondered what she was reading. Was it a funny remark from one of her friends? Was it a text from the cute boy I saw her talking to the previous day? Was it a love note? Whatever it was, I knew it had come from a world that a mother of a girl who is becoming a woman is not a part of. All of those little moments, which I usually would not have noticed, became things that inspired me to paint.”
Along with painting her children and scenes from her neighborhood, Ferrante has used this time to experiment in creating with pastels, something she had never done before. She did a portrait of her niece, Zoe, and was surprisingly pleased with how easily she was able to adapt to the use of a new media.
Utilizing her talents, Ferrante has also used this time to take on a project she has been wanting to do for over two decades: Write a book about her life and the history of her family.
“Over the years I have collected stories from my family members, letters, photos and drawings. I wanted to compile them into a book, but between raising my kids, teaching, and doing my commissioned work I was too busy. The pandemic gave me the time to start this project that will be a beautiful tribute to my family and my ancestors.”
Excited about the art she is creating and the book she is working on, Mina said that ever since she was a child she has always looked for silver linings in tragedies.
“There were times in Vietnam when we had no food ― nothing,” she said. “But my whole family always stayed optimistic. If we were hungry, we sang. If one of us was sad, we made up stories and I drew pictures. By doing that we never experienced depression. That is my advice to people who are having a hard time today. I believe if you do something creative it will bring you internal peace and happiness. Start a journal, reflect on your life, write down your memories, paint, draw, sing. It is amazing how by doing those things it can lift your spirits. Those are the things that helped me and my family survive and get through the great challenges of a horrible war, so I know they can help people in getting through this pandemic.”
For more information on Mina Ho Ferrante’s art, classes or commissioned work, visit minahoferrante.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Laurell may be reached at email@example.com or (818) 563-1007.