Wow, I just spent a week teaching “Pysanky for All” at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and I declare to one and all…this is my happy place.
For those who are not familiar with the Folk School, think of summer camp…only year around…for adults…filled with folk art classes…on 300 beautiful acres of gently rolling hills and woodlands…with other like-minded life-long learners. That should give you the beginnings of an idea of this place.
Years ago my sister and I attended an artisan bread-baking class there. In spite of the misty cold January weather, we had a blast baking all week long. With our fellow students we started with basic breads and then experimented with sourdoughs, crusty ciabattas and even got to bake in the wood-fired hearth oven right there in the kitchen. The communal meal-times offered lots of opportunity to meet fellow students and instructors from around the country. I fell in love with this whole concept of non-competitive, cooperative learning based on the Danish “folkhojskole” or folk high school and I knew I wanted to come back someday and teach.
It took me a few years to gain enough experience teaching and then a few more years to work up the courage to apply, but I was delighted to teach for the first time in June 2016. And even more delighted when they asked me back for this year’s class and scheduled me for October 7-13, 2018.
This year’s class of eight students exceeded my expectations greatly. On Monday morning we worked our way through an introductory egg to learn the basics. Step-by-step through the next few days they gained skills and confidence so that by the end of the week they were designing and completing their own masterpieces. We bonded as a group quickly and constantly helped each other by calling out, “Did you plug your egg?” as one or more students headed for the dye table. “Show and tell,” was followed by oohs and aahs as the finished eggs made their way around the class.
Saturday and the end of our stay came too quickly, but with the hope of a return trip next year, we parted as long-time friends instead of students and teacher. That’s a really good feeling in my book.
A Solo Gallery Show by Teresa Mihalko Harbert
April 2 through May 7, 2017
at the Art & Soul Gallery of Oak Hills Church
1100 Blue Ravine Road, Folsom CA 95630
Probably the number one question I am asked about this art called pysanky is, “Are they real eggs?” The answer? Yes, they are very real eggs. God created an engineering marvel with those shells, sturdy enough to withstand the mama bird’s weight as she keeps them warm before they hatch and yet designed so the baby bird can still peck its way through to life on the outside.
Over the years I have accidentally broken eggs at every stage in this creative wax-and-dye process. From exploding an egg while emptying it, to smashing one as I reach for it on my work area, to bobbling another as I remove layers of wax, and even dropping one or two as I proudly tried to admire my finished work of art.
Frustration does not adequately describe my feelings each time this happens. And after mourning the loss and cursing my clumsiness I eventually reach for another egg and begin all over again.
This solo exhibition show has been a long time in coming. It is the joy of creation and the pain of loss all tangled up in thoughts and eggshells. Let me take you on my art and faith journey from the initial idea to the actual show you will see in the Art & Soul gallery.
It all starts with my love for tiny details. I actually crave the quiet hours alone required to create these eggs. That’s my time to push away the busyness of the “regular” world and focus on one small thing at a time. And once in a while as I work God gives me an idea to ponder. This time it started with the eggshells themselves.
The show title, Fragile Canvas, came quickly and I knew that somehow I needed to demonstrate it, not just tell about it. I decided to create an egg and then break it on purpose for a photo for the show’s title page. Creating the egg was a joy, but I was surprised at how reluctant I felt when the time came to break it. It was much more emotional than I expected.
I finally got out my camera and readied the photo shoot area. Then I took a few minutes to marvel at the designs and color choices on my finished egg’s surface. This goose egg had been such a pleasure to work on because it was unusually smooth. Most goose eggs have small bumps and pits on their surface so the wax lines appear to waver as they move across the egg. Dyes don’t always adhere as brightly either but this particular egg behaved perfectly every step of the way. Looking at the finished egg I started to doubt myself, did I really need to break it?
I wrestled with my decision quite a while before bringing the egg down sharply onto my desk. Hearing that distinctive “crack” actually sent a shiver up my spine and I felt an immense sense of loss. I had changed that egg forever with one swift movement of my hand.
As I inspected the damage and gently picked up the pieces, I marveled at the beauty of the egg, even in its broken state. This is where God again gently spoke, reminding me that our lives are also fleeting and must be handled with great care. We are all made of fragile canvas and yet even in our broken state, we still have beauty.
Fragile canvases indeed.
The City of Rancho Cordova is doing a great job of promoting the arts! Visual arts, public art, and performing arts all are celebrated and supported well by the Cordova Community Council.
The Fall Show 2016 Opening Reception will be held Thursday, October 13, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM in the lobby of the Rancho Cordova City Hall, 2729 Prospect Drive, Rancho Cordova, California 95670. Stop by to meet the artists and enjoy the great variety of art on display .
I have three eggs on display at this show and as an added bonus I’ll be playing Baroque music with the string trio Camerata Cordova at the reception beginning at 5:30 PM.
Back in 2010 I had a solo art show of my eggs in the Art & Soul Gallery of our church. It was a huge leap of faith for me because it was the first time I really connected my art with my walk with God.
It ran throughout Lent, which is traditionally forty days of preparation for the Easter celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. Fasting and prayer often accompany this time of waiting. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. A time of soul-searching and repentance.
As I gave this thought and prayer, I recalled my childhood experiences with Lent. We usually chose to give something up as a reminder to pray and to look forward to the Easter celebration to come. It took a while but gradually words bubbled to the surface to express my Lenten experience. Fasting, prayer, listening, repentance. But the story didn’t stop there. At Easter fasting becomes abundance, prayer becomes hope, listening becomes growth and repentance becomes forgiveness. God’s story of love and transformation became more real now that I had words to express it.
Now I wanted to experience and express visually what that time of preparation meant to me. So the big question…how in the world do I take this colorful, traditional art done on eggs and give the viewer a sense of my own journey of faith? Eventually this thought crossed my mind. What if I gave up the use of color on these eggs? What if I only worked in black and white? My next thought was, “Are you crazy?”
I knew my designs would have to be strong enough to stand alone, without the distraction of color. How in the world do I create interest using only lines? I’d never tried this before and I was pretty sure I’d be able to do a few but could I create enough to fill the whole show? And what if I couldn’t come up with enough material in time? What if I failed? Fear, self-doubt, and a sense of the enormity of this task sidetracked me for a while.
As the days ticked by I kept hearing a soft voice say, “Just make one egg.” So I did.
“That wasn’t so hard,” I thought. And so I made another…and another…and pretty soon the design ideas flowed until chicken, duck, goose, and finally an ostrich egg all in black and white covered every surface of my workroom.
The show looked great in the gallery but I have no idea if anyone understood what I was trying to say with these eggs. And it doesn’t matter because the important part of the show for me was what I learned along the way. Sometimes God doesn’t give you the big picture. Sometimes you just have to start the journey and not focus on the goal. And sometimes you will find a joy in that journey that surprises you.
Once again I’ll be teaching a week-long class of 5th and 6th graders how to create pysanky. Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California, bursts with activity as the campus transforms into a vast studio of kids and volunteers all focused on finding God through the arts.
Dance, music, theater, visual arts, creative craftsmanship, and even culinary arts come alive as we all learn how to nurture our creative souls.
For more information and to register, click here.
Through February 5, 2014
Some of my eggs are on display Monday to Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM at Gallery 625 in the County Administration Building 625 Court Street, Woodland, CA 95776