Calabash Merchants Unite To Honor and Aid Local Artist

On Saturday, April 9, from 2 to 5 p.m., Sunset River Marketplace art gallery in Calabash, N.C. is set to host Honoring Life With Art,  a very special art reception for Jakobus "Co" Bungener. Also participating in the event are Victoria's Ragpatch, Calabash Garden Tea Room and Turtle Crossings Cupcakes. Making it noteworthy are a special set of circumstances and the man himself. Please join us in celebrating Co's life and art!

Co, as he likes to be called, is suffering from a terminal lung condition. He is on oxygen 24 hours a day. He finds moving around increasingly difficult. There's no room to paint in his room at Shallotte Assisted Living, so a few days each week, when the facility's hair salon isn't being used, he moves his acrylic paints, brushes, canvases and other supplies carefully down the hall and transforms the salon into a small makeshift studio and gets to work. His eyesight is failing, so Brunswick Arts Council has arranged for a magnifying lamp to help him with detail work.

All in all, life isn't easy for the former chemist.

But don't think for a moment that Co Bungener is seeking sympathy. "I did it to myself, smoking for 62 years," he states emphatically. "I'm good here. I'm very happy with the management here and Hospice, too. I read as much as I can – and I'm painting."

Co Bungener, born in pre-WWII Germany, has traveled a long road to get where he is today. His father, serving in the Navy, had been sent to the Dutch East Indies, so his mother, pregnant with Co, left Holland to return to her family in Germany. Co was two when he first met his father, but would barely know him because the elder spent years away from the family fighting in the South Pacific. His eyes well up with tears when he recalls that their first real conversation several years later would be in English because he hadn?t yet learned Dutch and his dad had all but forgotten German. Co was 11 years old.

His childhood memories are of whining Stukas and bombs exploding outside his window. He remembers hiding in between rows of asparagus as bullets whistled above his head. "I was always sketching though," he says. "I drew people, landscapes, sometimes a plane ... I loved to draw, I'd use pieces of charcoal, whatever I had."

As a young man, he studied chemistry and spent some time in the military. At 22, he was granted a visa to the United States and headed immediately to Charlotte, N.C. where he had friends. The day after he arrived he landed a job with the City of Charlotte in the water treatment department. His boss's wife saw his sketches and encouraged him to paint. His first oil painting was a cityscape of Utrecht in The Netherlands.

After vacationing in the Carolinas whenever possible, Co finally relocated to the coast in 1985, living in Calabash for a time and later, Cherry Grove, S.C. "I loved being by the sea," he says. "I always was drawn to the water. I had boats and wanted to do deep sea fishing."

For a time during 2003, Co exhibited some of his work at Sunset River Marketplace, and when the gallery's owner, Ginny Lassiter, heard that it was Co's wish to have a showing of his work, she quickly offered the gallery space, with the stipulation that 100% of sales of his work go to the artist.

Sunset River Marketplace, Victoria's Ragpatch, Calabash Garden Tea Room and Turtle Crossings Cupcakes invite the public to attend Honoring Life With Art, the reception for Co Bungener on Saturday afternoon, April 9 at the gallery. This is a unique opportunity to meet and talk with a man who has astounding stories of survival to tell. Wine will be served along with light hors d'oeuvres and sweets. There is no admission charge. Sunset River Marketplace is located at 10283 Beach Drive SW (Hwy 179) in Calabash, N.C. Regular hours (starting April 1) are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 910.575.5999 or visit the website: