Norway native paints portraits on porcelain

Gudney Bang is a modest woman.

She claims no extraordinary artistic talent and shrugs off compliments about her work by softly saying "thank you" and changing the subject.

If it weren't for her daughter Lillian Nesse, she wouldn't have agreed to an article featuring her work. But Nesse, a paraeducator at Helen Haller Elementary, is much too proud of her mother's paintings on porcelain to let her stay out of the limelight for long.

Born in Norway, Bang immigrated to the U.S. with her husband in the 1950s. Neither knew a single word of English. The couple settled near family in Eugene, Ore., where they lived in the same house for 50 years and raised

two children.

When her husband's health began to fail, the Bangs moved to Sequim to be closer to their daughter, but it wasn't long before her

husband - her "best friend," Bang corrected - died.

Devastated by the loss of her life companion, Bang stopped painting. She couldn't paint even if she wanted to, Bang said, because she'd sold her kiln before the move, because her new two-bedroom apartment had no room for the bulky oven.

A few months ago, fate stepped in:

One of Nesse's co-workers mentioned that her father had died recently and her mother had moved to Sequim. Nesse suggested introducing the two women because they might be able to help each other grieve.

Much to Nesse's surprise - and delight - her friend's mother also is a porcelain painter and lives only one or two minutes away from Bang - with a kiln in her garage.

The two widowed women became fast friends and spend hours painting, firing paintings in the kiln and taking walks together.

"It was the answer to our prayers," Nesse said. "She has a friend and started painting again."

Bang's favorite projects are portraits.

"If you can recreate a person's expression and the shape of their face, you capture who that person

is - the whole person," she said.

"All my friends do landscapes and flowers but I like people. I always have."

According to Nesse, her mother has a knack for portraits. "She makes their eyes look like they are alive," she said fondly.

"They look real."

The process of painting on porcelain is time consuming, Bang said. Each layer is thinly painted before being heated in the kiln up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bang usually fires a painting five or six times, taking the good part of a week.

"You can fire as many times as you want until it looks like what it should," she explained.

With six grand-children, Bang needn't look far for subjects. Her most recent project was recreating a photograph of a granddaughter holding a dark-skinned little girl while on a mission in Haiti.

When she's not painting family memories, Bang enjoys copying work by William-Adolphe Bougeureau, a French academic painter who died in 1905. She never sells her paintings, just hangs them on the walls in

her home.

She also paints porcelain vases and jewelry boxes.

As a young adult, Bang specialized in oil painting, but she hasn't started a single oil painting since discovering painting on porcelain.

"Oil is rough, but porcelain is completely smooth, like glass," she said.

"Painting on porcelain isn't very common. When I wanted to learn, there was nobody teaching portraits.

"Finally, I said, 'I can't do any more flowers, it's not me,' and found a teacher in California to come to Oregon for a seminar."

"From then on, I just kept going," she said with a

smile, pointing to the dozens of porcelain paintings hanging on the walls.

Ashley Miller may be contacted at

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