They're known as eggers. Or eggurs, egg decorators, egg crafters--same thing. However, they'd much rather be called egg artists, masters of an ancient yet eloquent art. With admirable skill and patience--lots of patience--they bead, embed stones and glitters, drill lacy cutwork, sculpt, engrave, glaze and in every imaginable way embellish nature's fragile showcase: the eggshell.
Inspired by the spectacular works of Peter Carl Faberge, the ingenious goldsmith to Czar Alexander III of Russia, egg artists worldwide take pride in their delicate assemblages. From 1884 to 1894 the young Faberge guided his select craftsmen in elaborately gilding the Easter egg. To please the nobility, the eggs were encrusted with precious gemstones, gold and silver. The Imperial Eggs were to be the Czar's extravagant gift to the Czarina, in keeping with the custom of giving an egg at Easter time, a universal symbol of rebirth or new life.
Faberge's followers could very well be accused of fakery, but the truth is that many of them have far surpassed his talents. Besides, the fabled eggs were actually made from metal.
Using real eggs and working calculatedly around their thin walls are the adept skills of our modern-day egg artists. A few of the ones we talked to, who deserve greater recognition than just blue-ribbon awards for their exceptional work, are local talents like Barbara Tison, Jo Schell and Zela Perkins. At the recent Egg Art show and workshop held at Inn at the Park in Anaheim, they instructed and shared new ideas with egg decorators from all over the world. The incredible shell designs were also presented to the public that following weekend.
Another interesting point is that although Faberge successfully coordinated and supervised his team of designers and work masters in creating the heirloom pieces, he himself never really crafted any of the objects. No longer faithful to the original Faberge designs, Barbara Tison has executed more than 200 exquisite eggs since 1970, with hardly any breakage. The eggs she uses range in size from the extra-large and firm-shelled ostrich egg to medium-size goose eggs to the tiny finch egg, which she considers the most "devilish to work with."
"I didn't know there were other eggs than chicken eggs until after two years of doing them," she said. "Chicken eggs are horrible; they get the wrong feed (not enough calcium) so their shells don't get as hard. However, if you can order chicken eggs from North Dakota you'll be better off--for one thing, the colder country makes them stronger."
Tison's collection reveals classic and ornate tendencies of her artistic forebears wedded with religious themes, playful children or animal figures as well as whimsical clowns, dolls and ballerinas. "Design possibilities run such a wide gamut," she said. "Any craft can be adaptable to an egg."
Her fine detailing of the Madonna won Tison a blue ribbon at a New Jersey show. Marbleized in gold and red mineral base paints and lined with red velvet, the shell has hinged doors that open to expose the gold and pearl-adorned Virgin Mary, highlighted by overhead mirror-reflected micro light bulbs.
The lacy cutwork she does, particularly out of the tiny finch eggs, is equally impressive.
Another work of wonder is her paper sculptured eggs. A dimensional finish is achieved when a print (choose scenes or even a pretty wallpaper or gift wrap pattern) is adhered to the shell and several layers of glue are applied to parts that need height. Combined with the cutwork technique, the egg can be really showy.
Now way past the "cutesy craftsies" stage, as she describes it, Tison suggested the following simple Easter egg project for beginners: "Paint an egg a pastel shade, then allow it to dry. Wrap it with a pretty lace, securing with a twist tie. Spray or carefully brush with white. When the lace is removed, it will leave a nice pattern on the egg." Tison's teaching days may be over, however. She's currently attending to her miniature-light business, Sun Ray Lighting in Costa Mesa.
Our other egg artist is Jo Schell, a retired pharmacist from Arcadia who enjoys producing eggs with seasonal themes. "I use anything from parakeet, finch, swan or flamingo eggs, Rhea (the South African ostrich), emu (the Australian ostrich); I also use a lot of quail eggs," she said. Her musical egg entourage of 12 dolls called "It's a Small World" won her the theme award at the most recent egg art show in Palo Alto. Another gorgeous winner for theme award is the Eggster Parade, in which she featured 12 bunnies made of eggs and charming little girls dressed in organdy. At the Anaheim show she gave a workshop on how to do what she calls Peek-A-Boo; a multihued in pastel goose egg is used. "It is a take-off from the old-fashioned sugar egg molds with a scene inside of rabbits, chicken and flower garden," the 67-year-old artist said.