Pioneer Memorial’s Villa Resident – Erna Christensen – shares her love for Chinese Painting!

Walking into Erna Christensen’s apartment at Pioneer Memorial’s Villa Independent Living in Viborg, the casual observer might think she is a collector of beautiful china pieces.

But those aren’t only collections. They are Erna’s handiwork which she has painted herself. China painting was first developed in China in the 1300’s, which is an art form that uses heat to embed colors into the glaze of plain china pieces. Erna started learning the art form more than 50 years ago from an elderly lady; and she continues to love it for the challenge, the variety and the opportunity to keep her mind busy.

“It’s kind of a dying art,” Erna said. “You don’t see many young women or girls learning it anymore because it is very time consuming.”

Erna, who once worked as an Anesthesiology Nurse, had always had a love for art which started with drawing pictures and painting ceramics. It was in her late 30’s that she decided she was up for a new challenge after a friend convinced her to get involved with china painting; which used similar techniques as oil painting. She found a china painter in Hurley that was willing to teach her the art form.

In china painting, artists use paint mixed with mineral oil that is movable long after application. The medium is very similar to watercolor paints in that the paint is fairly transparent when applied. Colors are added in layers and each layer is fired in a kiln before the next layer of colors is added.

A piece typically goes through to be fired in the kiln 3 times before it is finished; each time a portion of the paint fades off. Different colors require different kiln temperatures. Too cool a temperature and the color will not become correctly fused with the glaze of the china piece. Too hot and the color will burn off. Therefore it is important to have it set to a specific temperature, causing the kiln to shut off at just the right moment.

When Erna moved to Viborg in 1963, she opened a store in her house for 10 years; in which she sold her china paintings. She also sold paintings at craft fairs, town centennials, gift shop at Pioneer Memorial, and interested acquaintances that wanted to buy her artwork to enjoy for themselves. Erna has completed three full sets of china dishes; many of them with beautiful floral designs. She also has painted numerous vases, lamps, and eggs. Her favorite thing to paint is forget-me-knot flowers and South Dakota’s state flower … the pasque. She also has done many portraits including swans, cats, etc. …. which all require you to be a lot more exact in your painting.

Erna is always on the lookout for designs and patterns that attract her. Belonging to the World Organization of China Painters (WOCP) out of Oklahoma City, allows her to receive magazines which include designs painted by other artists. Her pieces are mostly displayed around her apartment at Pioneer Memorial Villa for herself and visitors to enjoy. She has also given them as gifts to family and friends. Erna said, “It’s kind of nice to be able to give someone something that’s part of you. You always know they will treasure it.”

Pictured is Erna in action that I got to observe as she painted a beautiful rose onto a china plate. I was amazed as she painted this in less than 5 minutes! This was the first step in her painting on the plate, and then she will fire it in the kiln and keep adding color until it has been completed. The detail that goes into her paintings is out of this world! It touched my heart to see the love and creativity Erna puts into her paintings; and this truly has been one of the best ways to keep her mind sharp and healthy!

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