Precipitated Spirit Paintings or Portraits were produced by spiritualist mediums in the early 20th century. Unlike other forms of spiritual communication, such as spirit writing where spirits guide the medium’s hand, during spirit painting the medium doesn’t touch the canvas while the painting materializes.
Spirit Portraits were produced during an event similar to a seance. A blank canvas or paper was stretched over a wooden frame. Oil paints were usually present, but not paintbrushes. Usually, the medium and the person requesting the portrait were present in the room, but other observers could take part. Some, or all, of the participants were asked to touch the canvas with their hands or fingers during the process.
The one wishing to contact the deceased person would concentrate on the task, and was not required to tell the medium who they wished to contact. The Spirit Portrait gradually appeared on the canvas or paper, taking anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour to fully take form.
The oldest recorded Spirit Portrait occurred in the mid-16th century, decades before the beginning of Spiritualism. The image of Mexico’s Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared on the cloak of a man named Juan Diego. The Vatican conducted research on the image and concluded that no signs of human creation appeared to exist. The blue pigment used to create the image could not be identified or reproduced. The agave-fiber cloak which should have decayed in a few years still exists and is on display today at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Some Precipitated Spirit Paintings of the 20th century can be found on display in the Maplewood Hotel in Lily Dale, New York. Located sixty miles south of Buffalo, Lily Dale is the oldest and largest community of Spiritualists in the world. Their collection includes portraits by the Campbell Brothers and Bangs Sisters.
The Campbell Brothers were not brothers. Many believe they were a gay couple who had to hide their sexual orientation at a time when it would have been condemned. Allan B. Campbell and Charles Campbell (born Charles Shourds) lived at Lily Dale, but traveled widely. Their mediumship included slate writing and spirit typewriting as well as Spirit Portraits produced in pastel and oil.
One of the Campbell Brothers most impressive Spirit Portraits is of Azur, Allan’s spirit guide. In 1898, they conducted a session in a room that contained enough light for those present to witness the phenomena. To ensure there was no trickery, invited guests were encouraged to place personal markings on the back of the 40” x 60” canvas. During the process, Allan became entranced and Azur spoke through him. The guests witnessed the gradual development of the painting on the canvas. It was completed in 90 minutes. Witnesses also noticed that the star behind Azur’s appeared right before their eyes.
Allen died and 1919 and Charles in 1926, leaving behind several notable spirit paintings.