More than thirty years ago in my former life (those days before marriage and children) I worked as a registered nurse first in a hospital and then in a doctor’s office. Another life chapter began when I started teaching Body & Soul, an international program that combines faith and fitness. Twenty three years later I’m still leading my fitness class weekly and have also been speaking and demonstrating the art of pysanky to individuals and small groups whenever the opportunity arises.
As I reflect back on all those experiences I noticed a common thread…teaching. I never thought of myself as a teacher before but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense. Even when I worked as a nurse, the part I liked best was that one-on-one time teaching.
I delight in taking complex topics, breaking them down to understandable pieces, and communicating those ideas in a simple way the listener can grasp. I also love the challenge of coming up with different ways to transmit knowledge to help the student gain success. And I especially love seeing that student’s eyes light up with understanding when the “light bulb” turns on at last.
In a couple of weeks I get to teach another group of fifth and sixth grade students all about this egg art called pysanky. Arts Camp 2013 at Oak Hills Church in Folsom is one of the highlights of my year. Students from first through sixth grade come together for a week of fun and excitement where they explore a particular art and in the process learn more about the God who created them.
If you know of a student who might be interested, it’s not too late to sign up for this great adventure. My class still has a few spots left and I know there are openings in a wide variety of other arts as well. For more information, click here.
Let the fun begin!
I am a “behind the scenes” person by nature. I do not like being the center of attention. And that sentiment goes a long way back. In second grade I remember vividly a time when our classroom ended up with an extra red rubber ball after recess one day. My teacher asked for a volunteer to return it to the neighboring classroom and everyone jumped up waving arms ecstatically in the air. That is, everyone except me. I sat quietly with hands folded thinking, ”Why would anyone want to go and do that?” Sister Mary Vincent settled the class down and then imagine my shock when she called on me. I began quaking in my saddle shoes as she handed me the ball. I can still feel the terror of leaving the safety of my classroom to walk that long hallway, knock on the door and then enter the other classroom, all eyes fixed on me. Oh the horror!
Given my aversion to the limelight, it’s rather hard to imagine myself on television but that’s what happened on the Friday before Easter. With just a few days notice Channel 31 Good Day Sacramento’s Cody Stark and his camera man came into my kitchen to highlight my egg art. Me on live TV, just like that. I didn’t have much time beforehand to fret and get nervous which is probably a good thing. And talking about pysanky and demonstrating the process was easy. While I can’t exactly call myself a television star, I can at least say,”Want to see me on TV? Click here.”
I got a package in the mail this week. I knew it was on its way but had nearly forgotten, so seeing it in the postal box and tearing it open brought a Christmas morning thrill. At last, the promised September 2012 issue from the Egg Artistry Guild of Australia. And on page 19 I found an article with my name and some photos of my eggs. I’m practically famous!
In case you’re wondering, here’s the path that led to this article. At the egg retreat in July I took a class on etching emu eggs and posted a photo of the finished egg to my pysanky chat group. The editor of the Australian Guild saw it, contacted the owner of Pysanky USA, the online store that sponsored the retreat, who called me to ask permission to pass on my information. A flurry of emails back and forth and voila, people in Australia are now reading my one page feature. Small world, huh?
Join the artists this Thursday, April 12, from 6 to 8 PM at the Preview Thursday Reception.
And don’t forget the Second Saturday Artwalk April 14 from 4 to 9 PM.
Pysanky artists are few and far between here on the West Coast so I was glad to find an online group centered around these eggs. Over the past year I have been enlightened and encouraged not just in this art, but in friendships across the world as well.
Recently one of our more computer literate members put together a 2012 calendar featuring pysanky from group members. As I flipped through a preview of the pages I was surprised and delighted to find a photo of my eggs graces the month of February, which also happens to be my birth month. A wonderful early birthday present! Just call me Miss February.
The changing season brings a new pysanky display to the Kennedy Gallery. Ostrich, goose, duck, and chicken eggs in brilliant reds offer lots eye candy just in time for the holiday season. Take a peek at these and all the other art in this wonderful midtown Sacramento gallery.
Need an excuse to go for a short drive? Come see some of my Christmas pysanky at the Ordaz Gallery in old town Auburn, California. Frank Ordaz, an award-winning oil painter, specializes in portraits and you can chat with him as he works in this downtown gallery/studio Tuesdays through Saturdays.
My eggs go formal at the Kennedy Gallery, 1114 20th Street,Sacramento,CA,95811. These black and white pysanky feature a wide variety of designs without the distraction of color.
And if you’re looking for an excuse to get out and about, Second Saturday Artwalk happens this weekend and provides a great opportunity to explore the art galleries in midtown.
What a joy to spend a high energy week teaching kids about art and God. And I don’t say that very often because I highly value my personal, quiet spaces in life. I am definitely not a high-energy extrovert but I love watching kids blossom as they discover their own artist within.
This year’s class was the best ever. My five fifth and sixth grade girls picked up the basics of using the wax and dyes very quickly and soon began experimenting with colors and designs on their own eggs. And best of all, as they concentrated our classroom became a tiny quiet oasis amidst the chaos of over 400 smiling kids, helpers, teachers, musicians, and support staff across the Oak Hills Church campus. I think my class, students and teachers alike, especially enjoyed that part of each day.
The week finished on a high note with a Friday night Showcase for all the parents. Afterwards exhausted but excited, I found myself already looking forward to next year’s Arts Camp. Incredible, isn’t it? In spite of the hectic schedule, the crazy hours, and the energy it took many of us felt this same way. It’s a God thing.
Creating these eggs is a never-ending adventure in experimentation and I’ve made my share of poor color and design choices over the years. It took me quite a while to realize it is okay to dislike a piece enough to destroy it and try again. Now I give myself permission to cut my losses and move on sometimes. It hasn’t always been this way, though.
Let me tell you the story of what we refer to in my family as “The Ugly Cake.” Years ago when my oldest son, Ryan, turned 14 I decided to try making an ice cream roll birthday cake like the ones at Baskin-Robbins. The yellow cake part baked without incident and I dutifully rolled it up in a towel when it came out of the oven just like the cookbook said. As I finished rolling it, I noticed a wrinkle in the towel so without thinking, I stretched the two side edges to get rid of the wrinkle. Unfortunately the hot cake was firmly attached to the towel at this point and it split crosswise into two rolls. Oh well, I thought to myself. I can glue it together with the ice cream filling. No one will ever know.
Once cooled, I gently unrolled the cake to find that not only had it split into two rolls, it unrolled with a series of cracks so deep that I could see the towel below. Still believing I had a chance, I dutifully spread softened chocolate ice cream over the pieces of cake and rolled it back up as I went. I could tell it looked pretty pitiful at this point, but hoping for the best, I stuck it in the freezer.
When I checked later, I realized the ice cream must have been too soft because the weight of the cake caused it to ooze out of all the edges of the cake. Alarmed, I yanked it out of the freezer with perhaps a little too much vigor. Because the ice cream wasn’t hard all the way through the cake, the top half slid right over the edge of the pan and onto my arm.
Ever the optimist, I scooted the pieces back together and decided I could still save it if I just made a chocolate glaze and covered up what I now referred to as the “Ugly Cake.” I quickly threw together a decadent shiny chocolate glaze to try to hide the many mounting flaws. However, I forgot the cake was cold and instead of flowing gracefully over its sides, the warm glaze just sat in a lump on the top of the mess.
Desperate now, I spread the glaze as far as it would go, shoved the cake back in the freezer, and drove with Ryan to Baskin-Robbins where we chose a cake from the many beauties in their freezer. I did finally show the “Ugly Cake” to the rest of the family and we had a good laugh at my adventure.
The lesson here? There are definitely times to admit your mistakes, give up, and move on. You might even laugh about them someday.
…or Making the Leap from “I Do This Art” to “I am an Artist”
It’s taken me years to actually refer to myself an artist. And I think I’m not alone in my reluctance to claim the label. There is something mysterious and wonderful and scary about that term. If I call myself an artist, then I have to produce art, and be good at art and sell art, and make money selling art, or so we think.
Truthfully the title “artist” is helpful because it describes a way people look at the world…not simply as things you can see and touch and define, but in a way that pierces the thin veil between our finite world and God-breathed eternity. And whether I call myself an artist or not doesn’t change the fact that I am an artist. Simple, huh? Well, not really.
Let me take you layer by layer through my own gradual journey to claiming the title artist.
Layer 1—I Can Create. As did many others, I began exploring creative avenues early in life. For most of us it starts with school projects. Those simple drawings led me to creative writing to playing at miniatures to quilting to cross-stitch to clothespin people and eventually to discovering the fascinating world of pysanky. And now looking back I can follow the thread of creativity through the years.
Layer 2—I Can Do This Egg Thing. Pysanky, the layering of wax and dyes on eggshells, is a simple art yet it holds endless possibilities in terms of color and design. I taught myself the basics from a book and found I loved the challenge presented by each new egg. Even the failures provided valuable lessons as I honed my craft.
Layer 3—I’m Improving. The finished egg was never the goal for me but the process of creating was. I treasured my quiet time creating, leaving the rest of the world behind. My family got to see those works but rarely did anyone else so years of finished eggs lay hidden away in a closet.
Layer 4:—Am I an Artist? Eventually I began to give away some of these treasured creations to family and close friends. I was so used to seeing these eggs and thinking them commonplace, that the response they evoked surprised me. It made me realize that in sharing my work, I not only gave pleasure to others, I felt incredibly blessed as well. Gradually I let others into the private world of my art, and with much prodding from other artist friends, I “went public” with a solo show at the Art & Soul Gallery in 2006. Developing a website seemed like a reasonable next step but it took years and much hand-holding. Making the eggs is easy, marketing myself and my work is not.
Layer 5—I Am an Artist…I Think. By releasing my work to the world at large, I opened myself to praise and to criticism. This is where real and imagined fears come to the surface and they can paralyze an artist. I know, I’ve been there. And sometimes I’m still there. Thoughts like these race through my head. What will they think or worse, what will they say? What if they don’t like my work, and by extension me? What if my work really isn’t good and no one told me? What if…? I have to remind myself continually that what people think of my art, doesn’t change my work or my passion for it.
Layer 6—I Am an Artist…and So Are You. Having come this far, I sometimes have the privilege of seeing and encouraging other fledgling artists in their own journeys. Being an artist is mostly a solo gig. There’s no getting around the hard, often solitary work it takes to produce art. But because of that, there is great need for community among artists, for standing shoulder to shoulder, for walking together, for helping others to see themselves as God-created artists. Whether we practice our art or not, each of us is an artist and fellow traveler in life’s journey. How much sweeter is the trip when we link arms and help each other along the way.
Lest you think more highly of me as an artist than you should, I have to set the record straight. The photographs you see in my galleries are the cream of the crop of my pysanky. What you don’t see are my less than successful endeavors.
Sometimes it’s not my fault. Sometimes the eggshell is damaged in a way that doesn’t show up until near the end of the process. That’s why I don’t use grocery store eggs anymore. Mechanical rollers leave invisible scratches on mass produced eggshells. It’s very disheartening to put hours of work into an egg only to discover on the final dye that imperfections mar the design.
Lots of times, though, it is definitely my fault. I have mistakenly covered areas in wax when I shouldn’t have. I’ve forgotten to cover areas with wax when I should have, which means they end up a different color than I had originally planned. I have also dyed the whole egg the wrong color and there is no “undo” button for that.
Even finishing an egg isn’t any guarantee of success. More than once I have bobbled an egg just as I was taking off the final bits of wax. Sometimes they bounce on the table and stay whole, but twice I accidentally crushed the egg between my stomach and the table edge while trying to keep it from falling. And you can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.
The most irritating of all are mistakes I make from inattention or impatience. Last year I was in a hurry because of a close deadline so I put the egg in an oven with the light on, thinking the warm air would help it dry faster. I foolishly thought the light would also warn my boys to remove the egg before preheating the oven. They didn’t and there is no “undo” button for a burnt, browned egg either. Trust me.
The photos here show a simple project that turned endless. On the first egg you can see some unattractive dye imperfections from hen scratches. So I tried again. The second egg burned when the tissue I was using to wipe the wax from the egg caught on fire. Egg number three turned out better than the previous two attempts but I was nervous the whole way through the process.
Whatever the reason for these mistakes, there is something to be said for the character quality of persistence. And that’s what God is teaching me through this art these days.
A gallery show has a lifecycle of its own. First comes the spark of an idea…and then hours or days of contemplating the possibilities, working out the plan in my mind. Soon I’m taking a few first steps of actual work on the eggs. This is the fun part. Yes, this will work! I am convinced I can do it. More quiet hours at my desk steadily applying fine lines of wax or waiting patiently for the dye color to be just right. This is going to be a wonderful show, I can tell already.
Usually about midway into the process come the first seeds of self-doubt. Are my designs strong enough? Did I choose the right theme? Can I complete enough work in this theme? Will I finish enough eggs by the deadline? What if I can’t do it? Am I really an artist or am I fooling myself? What if I don’t make the deadline? Should I just give up now? Why did I ever agree to this gallery? What am I doing on this earth?
Okay, take a breath, I remind myself. You can do this. Remember to focus on one egg at a time. One line at a time. The work continues, slowly but surely. As the deadline looms ever closer I realize I’m going to make it after all. The completed eggs silently cheer me on and even in the final frenzy of setting up the show with all its time consuming details, I feel a mystifying satisfaction. I know deep in my soul that I am an artist because God created me that way. And it is good.
Now to start my next show.
February 21-April 18, 2010
Art & Soul Gallery
Oak Hills Church, Folsom, California
Lent is a time of preparation for the Easter celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. Historically the Church sets aside the forty days of Lent for fasting and prayer, imitating Christ’s forty day experience in the desert. Lent is a time of waiting. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. A time of soul-searching and repentance.
Connecting my artistic passion with my life in Christ has given me a whole new depth of awe and wonder about God, my Creator and Savior. As I contemplated this project, the first question that came to mind was, “How do I link this highly symbolic art with the season of Lent?”
Beginning with prayer and trepidation, I challenged myself to work only in black and white. Without the distraction of color, each design must truly stand on its own. I also experimented with a wide variety of designs, from simple to complex. The time it took to create each piece provided a refreshingly quiet space to contemplate this season’s purpose.
Exploring the Lenten Season through the art of pysanky has not only stretched me as an artist, it has given me a new appreciation for the history and the practice of Lent. As you wander through the gallery, take your time…slow down…and let this season sink deep into your soul as well.
Teresa Mihalko Harbert—Pysanky Eggs