Coping Creatively with COVID-19: Dorte Dopfer and her little mouse

Strokes of Miniature Genius

“If a tiny mouse can do it, then we can do it as well”

Each morning since March 23, Dorte Dopfer, just after waking, has posted to her Facebook page a picture of a mouse. But not just any mouse — a particularly thoughtful and kind mouse, hand-drawn and dappled in pastels.

Dopfer’s “little mouse campaign” is meant to provide at least one smile per day, she says — “a source of strength and confidence to carry on in a decent way.”

Some of her drawings share messages of friendship, caring, and kindness. Others encourage safety and courage amid COVID-19. Yet others touch on personal moments, for example, “angry mouse,” drawn the day Dopfer learned that her mother, in her native Germany, had tested positive for the disease (she survived, but remains confined).

“As long as the mouse stays cool, things are alright,” says Dopfer, an associate professor of food animal production medicine in the School of Veterinary Medicine. “If a tiny mouse can survive a pandemic, then we will all be okay is what I try to convey.”

painting of cow in field
Dopfer painted this mural panel for installation in Germany.

Drawing and painting have been treasured pastimes for Dopfer since childhood. Cows are a frequent subject of both her research and artwork. In January she traveled to Bavaria to begin painting a 36-foot mural of dairy cows to give voice to cattle welfare and farmers’ devotion to their animals.

As COVID-19 emerged and Dopfer adapted to remote work, travel restrictions, and the “new normal” of the pandemic, painting provided stress relief. This has resulted in more than 100 mouse campaign drawings.

“When I get worried, I make another mouse drawing where I ‘deposit’ my worries for a while,” she says. “It is a nice routine that helps me cope and connect to friends.”

watercolor kit with artists suppliesHer process involves a brief pencil sketch followed by water coloring and ink pen tracing. The drawings also include brief written captions — often a play on words. Each drawing takes about five to 10 minutes and serves as a repository of feelings from that day, Dopfer explains. “I recognize the emotions from the pencil and watercolor strokes and can revisit them when I choose to do so.”

Dopfer has been humbled and inspired by acquaintances’ reactions and encouragement. The campaign has even become a bit of an inside joke for Dopfer and her students, offering levity as they navigate alternative instruction.

“We keep saying ‘I feel a mouse coming’ and laugh and smile together. Those are good moments,” she says.

Top Image: This “stars at night” little mouse drawing — inspired by the story of a 2-year-old-boy sheltered at home away from his father — depicts how by watching the same stars at night we can feel close despite our distance.

Meghan Lepisto

View more of Dopfer’s drawings:

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