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CRAFTS : HATCHING WORKS OF ART : Joan Huff Transforms Eggshells Into Amazingly Fanciful Objects

April 01, 1993|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin covers the arts for The Times Orange County Edition.

It's not that Joan Huff keeps 3,000 eggs in her closet, or that she carves snowflake designs on eggshells without obliterating them. It's not that she works seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day decorating eggs. I think what is most amazing about Huff is that she hasn't broken a single egg in 19 years.

"They're really not that fragile," she said, adding humbly: "The only time you'd break one is if you dropped it, so I'm very careful."

Other misconceptions about eggery--as aficionados know it--abound. Many think that all that eggers do is dip Grade A's into Dixie cups of lavender dye at Easter time or that they don't use real eggs.

Hardly. Huff transforms goose, quail, Rhea, dove, finch, ostrich and other eggs into glittering orbs that would make Peter Carl Faberge turn over-easy in his grave.

One features an elegant 2 1/2-inch-tall couple--she in tiara, with fan, he in stately white wig--atwirl inside a bejeweled egg set atop a music box. Then there's a beaded jewelry box made of three satin-lined eggs that fit one inside the other like little Russian dolls.

A baffling photo album egg opens like an accordion to reveal framed snapshots of Huff, her husband and their six children. The kids are pictured as babies on one side, grown-ups on the other.

"That was one of my first ones," said Huff, whose license plate reads "EGG LADY."

A longtime crafter, she took up eggery while working in a Northern California craft store after a customer introduced her to the idea.

"I thought, gee, that looks mighty interesting," she said. So she read up, took an intensive eggery seminar and has been doing and teaching ever since.

Huff, a Lake Forest resident who lives with her husband of 27 years, buys her eggs from hatcheries in the United States and abroad. They come already blown, and range in price from 50 cents to $15 each.

Dove eggs are no bigger than gumdrops; ostrich eggs, which she gets from Africa, look like milky-colored cantaloupes. Goose eggs, which also vary in size, are used most often.

"The smallest is about nine inches" in perimeter, said Huff, "and the largest, a double yolk, is about 12 inches around."

Huff starts by drawing a design on the egg, then using a dentist's drill with a tiny bit to cut out snowflakes, curlicues, or lattice-like patterns.

From there, she affixes hinges--if doors, flappable butterfly wings or other movable parts are part of the plan--then paints the eggs and glues on rhinestones, bits of lace, gold lame, faux fur, colorful beads, porcelain flowers and figurines, from tiny fairies to snow princesses to teddy bears.

Huff takes part in eight egg shows a year but makes almost no profit. Take her twirling couple, music box egg, price tag $300. She spent some 30 hours and $175 to make it, including $50 for the handmade couple, $15 for the egg and $25 for the music box.

"Basically, (sales) pay for my expenses to go to the shows and buy more supplies," she said, "but to really get paid for your time, forget it!"

In addition to pure crafting pleasure, however, the hobby has given her the chance to travel. Shows are held across the country, and she's exhibited and taught in Holland and Japan, where she may have learned the real reason for the U.S.-Japan trade imbalance.

"In one day, the Japanese can do an egg that takes an American two days to do," she said.

In 1984, Huff founded the Southern California Egg Artists club, which meets the second Monday of each month at the Placentia Library. The club's annual Easter luncheon will be held this month, but normally, some 50 active members engage in ardent eggery for two or three hours.

Newcomers are encouraged to come, even if just to watch, Huff said. "You don't have to know how to decorate eggs, and you don't have to join."

Deadline pressure is the most frustrating part of eggery, she said. Often she has only six weeks between shows to produce two dozen eggs. She's never at a loss for fresh ideas, however.

"What I love about it is there's just no end to what you can do," she said. "You can always think of something new."

For information about the Southern California Egg Artists club, call (818) 794-4046. Newcomers may attend the club's annual Easter luncheon April 12. Cost is $12.50. Reservations required.

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