By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneApril 9, 2010
In the hands of Mike Chemsak, an egg looks mighty tiny.
It also looks exquisite.
Chemsak is an "egger," slang for an artist who enjoys designing and creating decorative eggs. For this Redstone Arsenal employee, decorative eggs come in all sizes, often feature hinged doors and jewelry, and hold a special place in the hearts of family and friends who receive them on special occasions.
Chemsak's little eggs - those chicken or duck eggs used in Easter baskets - are covered in beads that transform them into sparkling jewels. He often depicts flowers, butterflies and even the state of Alabama on his eggs. He uses the natural color of his larger eggs - from emus, rheas and ostriches - as a background for bejeweled trims, charms and porcelain figurines.
"Each of the eggs I decorate is distinct. No two are the same," Chemsak said. "What I decorate an egg with is a matter of what I find when I shop around for jewelry and other things. I call them my findings."
In honor of Easter and spring, Chemsak has put some of his original decorative eggs on display at the Post Library. The display also includes decorative eggs that Chemsak has collected from countries around the world, including Mexico, Ukraine, Peru, Czech Republic and Germany.
"Eggs are a symbol of rebirth, of springtime," Chemsak said. "That's why they are popular at Easter time."
Chemsak has dabbled in decorative egg art for about 40 years. He first learned about the craft from his uncle, who paints eggs in the Ukrainian style.
"He uses paint and wax to paint colorful designs on eggs," Chemsak said. "I used to watch him and I appreciated how quite involved it was. But I was not impressed enough to do it myself. It was too involved."
Yet, egg art stuck with Chemsak. About 15 years ago, he started decorating his own eggs. But instead of paint brushes and wax, Chemsak's tools became beads and glue.
"This is one of those up and down things for me," he said. "Right now, I have a lot of eggs started. But I also have a grandson in Nashville who will be 2 in May. I would rather spend my time devoted to him than decorating eggs."
Even if he isn't spending a lot of time with his eggs these days, Chemsak's repertoire is quite impressive. His bejeweled eggs shimmer with religious connotations, glamorous beauty, symbols of spring and loyalty to the state of Alabama.
In fact, five of Chemsak's eggs represent the state of Alabama as part of the White House collection of art kept in the presidential library. They were among the decorative eggs collected from each state during the Bush years to be displayed in the White House as part of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The eggs featured the outline of the state of Alabama or the name of Alabama or one of its slogans, all done with tiny beads.
"My eggs were in the collection five different times," Chemsak said. "I went to Washington, D.C., three years to see the display.
"The first time was before 9/11. I went with my wife, my sister and her husband and my father. Mrs. Bush was there for the reception and we got to meander all around the White House. But after 9/11, that changed. Our display was in the White House Visitor's Center and our tour was very regimented and limited."
One of Chemsak's most cherished decorative eggs is the one he made for his son Nick and his bride Lacey to commemorate their wedding day in 2004. It is made out of an ostrich egg. The outer part of the egg is covered in jeweled musical notes, the couple's initials, hearts and angels.
"When I decorate an egg for someone, it's nice to include things that represent them or that they like," Chemsak said. "My son and daughter-in-law graduated from college with degrees in the music industry and they like music."
The egg sits on a floral candlestick holder, and has a heart jewel at its top that was once the top of a wine cork. The egg has double doors that open up. Inside, there are pictures of Nick and Lacey framed with jewels, and a figurine of two cherubs.
"People use decorative eggs for all kinds of occasions - weddings, birthdays, baptisms, confirmation," Chemsak said. "They are very symbolic of a new beginning, and they are a beautiful keepsake of the occasion."
Chemsak orders his eggs from various online sources. He drains them with a needle and air pump.
"It is not uncommon for an egg to break. I've eaten a lot of scrambled eggs," he said, with a laugh.
Chemsak then uses a dremel tool to cut out his design.
"I always have a design in mind first. I divide the egg into a grid pattern so that I have all my lines straight," he said.
"The eggs are fragile. But the large eggs are also very thick. They are like working with a piece of porcelain or glass. But they aren't as fragile as people think they are."
Once an egg is completed, Chemsak displays it on a stand designed for an egg or on anything that is shaped in a way that will hold an egg. Candlestick holders make good egg stands as do small flower pots.
"There are so many different styles, different tools and different ways to decorate eggs," Chemsak said.
And they are all beautiful.