Genius, Explained: Objets D'art, by the Dozen
Back on Easter 1898 Czar Nicholas II gave his wife, Alexandra, one of the most famous baubles in history. Adorned with diamonds, rubies, and pearls, it was a Fabergé egg called the Lilies of the Valley—and now, more than a century later, Wakefield’s Sophie Chetwynd displays a near-perfect facsimile in her living room. This ovoid, though, came from an actual goose and took Chetwynd 48 hours to decorate with crystals and paint. "Fabergé didn’t use real eggs," she says. "Though he did use real jewels."
As president of the New England Egg Art Guild, Chetwynd and more than two dozen of her peers work with all eggs, big and small. (A finch egg is as wee as a thumbnail, while one from an ostrich is half a foot long.) Pursuing individual styles, they transform the hollowed-out shells into glittering objets, dainty dolls in ballooning gowns, and miniature dioramas. The results are so dazzling they must be seen to be believed (for instance, at the guild’s Easter weekend sale, 4/9–4/11 at South Shore Plaza in Braintree). Even then, the humble origins of these pieces can be hard to comprehend. Says guild vice president Connie Taylor, "People ask us all the time, ‘I know it’s an egg, but what’s it made of?’"
STOCKING UP Guild members buy hundreds of unfertilized eggs each year. To save time and not waste food, they order them already hollowed out and pasteurized.
HUNTING AROUND Eggers are always on the lookout for costume jewelry and figurines they can repurpose. Lily Ng of Quincy even turned one duck egg into a tropical fish with a working kaleidoscope inside.
DRILLING DOWN Most eggs feature lattice-work or an interior display. The artists cut out the shapes using a precision air drill so high-powered that it spins at 450,000 rpm. The shells are surprisingly solid: An ostrich’s is about one-eighth of an inch thick and feels like ceramic.
REACHING OUT Chetwynd sees the guild’s ranks aging, so she’s evangelistic about the craft, especially when it comes to urging budding egg artists to take classes. "It’s my passion to take one source of life and create something else," she says, "and we’re all trying to keep it from becoming a lost art."
An egger for 25 years, Sophie Chetwynd, above, has taught weekly classes in her basement since 1994. She and her fellow guild members have also made eggs depicting such Boston icons as Make Way for Ducklings, the Red Sox World Series trophy, and the Big Dig.