Saturday, July 6, 2013

Spirit Paintings, The Bangs Sisters

“As the sunflower turns its face toward to the
light of the sun, so Spiritualism turns the face
of humanity toward the light of Truth.”
~ National Spiritualist Association of Churches

This is an Excerpt from my ebook, How Thin the Veil: 150 Years of Spiritualism by Linda Pendleton, available at Amazon  Kindle.

Chapter 9:  Visual Renderings

While doing research on the terrestrial life of James Martin Peebles, I obtained a copy of his Last Will and Testament from California’s Los Angeles County where he died in 1922.  In his Will, among his personal effects were two Bangs paintings.  My curiosity  led me to do further research.  I discovered the Bangs paintings were precipitated spirit paintings done by sisters Elizabeth S. and May E. Bangs of Chicago, Illinois, American physical mediums.

My research led me to contact historic Camp Chesterfield, Indiana, home to the Indiana Association of Spiritualists, founded in 1886 as a Spiritualist Church.  The Camp’s Hett Art Gallery and Museum’s Middle Gallery houses an extensive collection of portraits precipitated by the nationally recognized mediums Elizabeth and May Bangs. The portraits were precipitated in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  Many of the paintings were done under test conditions in full day light. The sister’s gifts included independent or automatic writing in broad daylight on slates, and independent drawing and painting; all forms of fully developed clairvoyance, materializations, and direct voice mediumship. But their most amazing and spectacular phenomena was that of full color precipitated spirit portraits.  Although the authenticity of the paintings had often been questioned, and the sisters were accused of fraud, it appears the paintings are legitimate spirit paintings.  I was told several years ago that they were examined by art experts from a university and the medium on the canvas is not identifiable. It had been described as a “sticky” substance but it failed to leave a mark on the finger or even on glass that later covered a painting. 

Ron Nagy, considered to be the United States leading authority on Spirit Art, and museum curator and historian at Spiritualist Community, Lily Dale in New York State, which holds several Bangs Sisters paintings, writes in his book, Precipitated Spirit Paintings, “The portraits have been examined by art experts who cannot explain the medium used, as the paintings are not pastels, charcoal, oils, watercolors, or any other known substance.  The medium has been compared to the dust on a butterfly’s wings.”

The full color Bangs paintings are rather extraordinary, and in many cases, beautiful and apparently even accurate representations of the deceased.  It has been written that often the canvas would “continue” to “paint” after leaving the presence of the Bangs sisters, and even changes would be made the next day, such as a necklace of pearls appearing around the neck of a woman in a portrait.  Some paintings were precipitated in as little as five minutes. The spirit paintings were of a quality that would have taken human artist days to complete.


 The three Bangs paintings below are in an art collection at Astara, an organization and mystery school founded in 1951 by Drs. Robert and Earlyne Cheney.  For years located in Upland, California, Astara is now in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and is well known worldwide for esoteric teachings and mystic philosophy. Robert was a medium and author and Earlyne was a noted medium, psychic and author, and both were Spiritualist, and had spent time at Camp Chesterfield, Indiana prior to moving to Southern California.   


        Astara Collection, Bangs Paintings

In April, 1888, the Bangs sisters were arrested during a séance in Chicago and charged with obtaining money under false pretense and not having a license for their establishment. The April 17, 1888 Washington Post newspaper article, byline Chicago, reported the Firm of the Bangs’ Sisters, conduct the leading spiritualistic establishment in Chicago, and in their capacity cater to a large element in the community.  Their elegant parlors have been crowded by day as well as by night and money flowed into their coffers in large streams.

While out on bail, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bangs’ seven year old daughter died.  The funeral was held and Mrs. Cora L. V. (Hatch) Richmond conducted the service and was of an entirely spiritualistic nature.  The newspaper reported that Cora Richmond had been a trance speaker and as such gave scientific, philosophical, and spiritual addresses while under the “controlling influence, as she claims, of some long departed scientist or philosopher.”  The report went on to say at the funeral service she went into her trance and “preached, or rather delivered a discourse, lasting nearly an hour, in the course of which she recited an impromptu poem.”

In July, 1909 May Bangs stood trial for violating a City Ordinance that was passed December 16, 1907 against the practice of mediumship, and for obtaining money for doing so.  Although no fraudulent practices were proven, she was fined, and according to author James Coates who studied the trial states false evidence against her was thoroughly exposed.  

In Coates 1911 book, Photographing the Invisible, he quotes May Bangs’ own written description of spirit paintings:  “No two sittings are exactly alike.  Usually in the development of a portrait the outer edges of the canvas become shadowed, showing different delicately coloured lines, until the full outline of the head and shoulders is seen.  When the likeness is sufficiently distinct to be recognized, the hair, drapery, and other decorations appear.  In many cases, after the entire portrait is finished, the eyes gradually open, giving a lifelike appearance to the whole face.”  

Spirit portraits were also done by Spiritualist Allen Campbell and Charles Shourds, known as the Campbell Brothers.  They produced a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, an excellent likeness, and according to Ron Nagy’s book, Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, New York examined the Lincoln painting in 1941 by photography, x-ray, ultraviolet and infrared light, and used all the technology at their disposal and could not ascertain what the paint medium was.

It appears that the precipitated spirit paintings were, just that, spirit paintings, which came from the Other Side and manifested on a canvas in this dimension.  As much as the skeptics of that time period tried to come up with a plausible explanation they really did not accomplish that.

© Copyright 2009, 2013 by Linda Pendleton.  All Rights Reserved.  This excerpt of How Thin the Veil!: 150 Years of Spiritualism may not be copied, transmitted, or used in any way, without the permission of the author, Linda Pendleton.