By Kari HawkinsOctober 13, 2017
When she looks at an ostrich or peacock egg, Sandy Olinger's imagination runs wild in deep hues of purple, red and blue; precious jewels and crystals; and ornate trims.
And then she takes to the egg with her tools and creates the beauty of her imagination.
Olinger is an egger, a hobbyist who has developed an interest in decorative eggs into her own unique art form that she shares with her family, friends and a long list of customers throughout the nation. With the holidays fast approaching, Olinger is once again sharing her egg art with her co-workers at the Aviation and Missile Command, letting them choose miniatures that she uses to personalize the insides of a decorative duck egg transformed into a Christmas tree decoration.
Egg art dates back 60,000 years and was made famous in the early 1900s by the jeweled Faberge eggs. Olinger uses modern-day products and techniques that make her eggs one-of-a-kind. Her eggs are known by the coating she developed and uses, the figurines and trinkets she places inside ornament eggs, her elaborately decorated goose-egg jewelry boxes, and the specialized designs she makes for friends and co-workers.
"What appeals to me about egging is that it lets me be an artist," Olinger said.
"My mother is an artist. My brother and sister are artists. My dad was a brilliant engineer, and I'm the oldest child who took after him. I'm most like him. But I always felt cheated because I admired things made by hand and I wanted to make beautiful things by hand. This has allowed me to do that."
Olinger is an engineer in the compliance branch of AMCOM G-4 (Logistics). But, even a technically minded person has a creative streak and Olinger found hers in 1991 when she met her future husband's parents - Mary and Milford.
"His parents lived in Russellville (Alabama) and we would visit them every weekend," Olinger said. "They had every bird you could think of - ostrich, emu, rhea, peacocks, ducks, guinea, swans. And his mother would get the eggs that didn't hatch and make them into decorative eggs."
In Olinger's story, the egg did come before the bird. Back in the 1970s, when Mary first started decorating eggs, big bird eggs were hard to come by and quite expensive. Milford decided it would be less expensive to farm the big birds, capture their eggs and place them in an incubator in the farm's barn. If they hatched, Milford sold the hatchlings. If they didn't, Mary got an egg to decorate.
"I would help her clean out the eggs and we cleaned out a lot of them," Olinger said, with a laugh. "Pretty soon, she was showing me how to cut the egg and hinge the egg, and decorate the egg, and I got hooked."
As Olinger got more involved in the art form, she began bartering for eggs from Mary, who was by then her mother-in-law. In exchange for eggs, Olinger, who then worked for the Army Corps of Engineers, would pick up trims, jewels, figurines, buttons and beads, decals, paints, glitter and trinkets on her travels with her job. She traded these for Mary's eggs.
When Mary passed away in 1997, Olinger was given all her unused eggs and egging supplies. It took Olinger three weekends to pack and move them.
Olinger now has an egg room, which is a spare bedroom where she keeps her supplies. She uses her living room as her egg decorating room. This winter, after she retires, Olinger plans to add a room to her house just for her egg art.
Nowadays, Olinger buys blown out and clean eggs in large quantities. Most of her design time is spent in coating her eggs with coatings she has specially developed.
"The coatings make the eggs hard," she said. "It takes a minimum of eight to 12 hours to coat an egg."
She paints them with the different colored coatings from the large collection of paints she has accumulated over the years. She often covers her eggs in glitter before adding the coatings.
Since 2014, Olinger has been taking her eggs to egg shows in cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Cleveland and Portland, Oregon. She displays her eggs and teaches egg decorating classes. She also sells decorative eggs, decorating kits and eggs painted with her specialty coating.
At the Dallas egg show last year, Olinger sold about 180 coated goose eggs to other eggers for their projects.
When she's not getting ready for a show, Olinger is making decorative eggs to give as gifts. This year, as Olinger gets ready to retire, will be the last year she transforms upwards of 100 duck eggs into Christmas ornaments for co-workers. Each ornament egg is painted with one side completely cut out. Inside the egg, Olinger puts figurines and trinkets that are special to the person she is making it for. Her co-workers choose their figurines and trinkets from the hundreds of "goodies" Olinger brings in to work.
Of the 15 ornaments she's received as gifts over the years, co-worker Shirley Hogan's favorite is her Costa Rica egg with an iguana on top and a toucan perched in the middle. Co-worker Leslie Trippe especially loves her orange-painted egg with a jade-colored owl inside, co-worker Eva Mears' favorite has a beagle perched next to a tiny Christmas tree and co-worker Gerri Rogers' favorite features a baby Jesus lying next to a Christmas tree.
"She will make you an egg ornament that signifies something in your life," Rogers said. "I've got eggs with a cheerleader theme for when my daughter was a cheerleader. And, I have an Alabama egg with an elephant in it. They mean so much to me. They are just a joy to look at."
Co-workers appreciate the gift of Christmas ornament eggs because they, like Olinger, appreciate gifts made at the hands of an artist.
"It is an original work that someone spent time personalizing for me," Trippe said. "Not everyone is willing to give their own time and efforts to make a gift so personal."
Sometime before Christmas, a special box will show up on Olinger's co-worker's desks with their egg ornament inside along with Christmas chocolates, and a card from Olinger and her grown son Raymond.
Mears said she appreciates receiving a gift like this from a co-worker because it ties them together on a personal level, rather than just professional.
"It gives me a little keepsake of her creativity every year that has created many lasting memories," she said. "What better present can you receive from someone than a gift given with love and talent?"