'Honoring Life': Lifelong painter brushing up for first art show Saturday in Calabash

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

He’s a lifelong artist, cook and, up until a few years ago, chemist.

Jakobus ‘Co’ Bungener has stirred up a little bit of everything in his multi-faceted life.

But there’s one thing the 76-year-old resident of Shallotte Assisted Living has never done. He’s never had his own art show.

That’s all changing come Saturday, April 9, when the Holland native and his art are being showcased at a reception and show in his honor, “Honoring Life with Art,” to be presented by Lower Cape Fear Hospice and LifeCareCenter at Sunset River Marketplace art gallery in Calabash.

A reception of wine and light hors d’oeuvres and display of Bungener’s work is set for 2-5 p.m. Event hosts in addition to the gallery include Victoria’s Ragpatch, Calabash Garden Tea Room and Turtle Crossing Cupcakes.

All stops are being pulled out for Bungener, whose wish for a show came true after gallery owner Ginny Lassiter heard about it.

Bungener, who has a terminal lung condition and is on round-the-clock oxygen, says he’s been painting “since I was old enough to crawl. I’d paint the walls at home.”

One day his mother bought him a paint set, pinned a sheet to the wall and let him go. He’s been going ever since.

Growing up in pre-World War II Germany, Bungener studied painting techniques in books and with a teacher.

“It was very early in my life,” he recalled during a recent interview. “The thing about it is, if you take on the style of somebody else, you lose your own. She said go ahead and develop your style, because they liked what I was doing, and I have been doing it ever since.”

After coming to America in 1957, Bungener went to work for the city of Charlotte in sanitation and water and sewer, then worked as a chemist until his retirement in March 2004.

“I’ve been coming to the beach a long time,” says Bungener, who bought a place in Calabash in 1985.

“I always wanted to retire at the coast,” said Bungener, whose wife, Jetsy, has Alzheimer’s and lives in Little River.

About a year ago, Bungener came to Shallotte Assisted Living. He attributes his health problems to working around chemicals, coupled with 62 years of smoking, up to three packs a day.

“It’s all that packed together,” he said. “As long as I have oxygen, I’m on it 24 hours a day.”

That doesn’t stop Bungener from rising early to continue painting. His “studio” is a room often used as a hair salon at Shallotte Assisted Living. He’s allowed to use it when it’s not being used as a salon.

Bungener’s artistic talent was most recently “discovered” by artist and teacher Hannelore Palmer, who visits at the facility twice a month.

“He was so much into art,” said Hannelore, who prefers to go by her first name only. She helped the oil painter get acrylic paints he could use because solvents couldn’t be used at the facility.

She also could tell he was “way ahead of other students in his ability.”

Bungener’s wish for his own art show started “when we were doing life reviews that I like to do with all my patients,” said Mickie Norman, chaplain with Lower Cape Fear Hospice & LifeCare Center. “I marveled at his life story, about all the things he’s done, the opportunities that he’s had, and I said, ‘Wow, what a rich life. Is there anything that is still out there that you haven’t checked off?’”

That’s when he told her he’d never really had an art show.

“So from that conversation, I went back to the office and I said, ‘Here’s a story and here’s a man who has a last wish. We should make that happen,’” Norman said. “Before we knew it, look what it’s turned into. And it’s not necessarily anything that we’ve done. It’s people that we’ve contacted that have said, ‘Yes, I’ll help.’”

In addition to all the others helping with the event, a florist is donating a tuxedo for Bungener to wear, she said.

Some of Bungener’s work at the upcoming show will be available for sale. The show is a reflection of Bungener’s creativity and energy that continue to this day.

Cindy Cheatham, development manager with Lower Cape Fear Hospice, said Bungener is an inspiration.

Despite obstacles he’s encountered, “not one time has he ever had a negative thought,” she said. “He has a tremendous, positive perspective on life, and that’s a gift.”

“I’ve been busy all my life. I can’t see myself in bed watching television,” says Bungener, who also enjoys doing cooking demonstrations at the facility and says he also can do carpentry work.

“I believe God gave man a talent,” he says. “When you use it, he gives you more talents.”



‘Honoring Life with Art,’

featuring art by Co Bungener

When: 2-5 p.m. Saturday, April 9

Where: Sunset River Marketplace, 10283 Beach Drive, Calabash

Information: call 575-5999