Classes in advanced egg decoration have taken time-honored tradition to next level for 50 years
Every spring for the last 50 years, just as lawns beg to be raked and seeded, Barbara Freeman signs up participants for her intensive three-hour class in egg decoration.
By no stretch of the imagination is this the Easter ritual of dunk-the-egg-in-a-dye bath so familiar to children. Freeman’s course calls for blown-out jumbo white eggs to be transformed into objects of art.
For weeks before Easter, the Freeman dining room becomes an intoxicating kaleidoscope of brilliant colors and subdued hues. Layers of the finest rice paper, extraordinarily beautiful art papers and even gift-wrapping sheets blanket dining room chairs, each group colored coded, so for example, the pink ensemble will have lavender, rose and fuchsia colors in the mix. Spread out on the table are plastic storage bins crammed with Ziploc bags of glitter and gems, baubles and beads, birds and bunnies, feathers and ferns. There are Lilliputian teddy bears, roosters, and baskets. There are cut-outs of dragonflies and hydrangeas. And miles of ribbons, twine, grass, moss, trim and gimp.
For inspiration, Freeman’s living room becomes a panorama of decorated eggs, some hung on a Christmas-y silver pine display tree, others jostling with bunnies and benches on the mantel, and still others on a low chest of drawers, usually harmonized by color. A spill-over diorama graces a sideboard in the dining room. You become the proverbial kid in a candy store as you fawn over the eye-catching depth and whimsy spread out before you.
“I’ve always visited a papers or craft store anywhere I went in the world,” Freeman admits by way of explaining where all the “goodies” come from. “I’ve removed things from my suitcase so I would have room for papers and trinkets that I picked up whenever I traveled.” Once, when she was in Florence, she spent a whole day in a passementerie, the all-encompassing shop for drapery trims and tassels, that the owners pulled out a chair for her to sit on as she fingered, felt and fawned for hours over the samples.
“As a kid, I would say I was sick so I could stay home from school and craft,” she remembers. “I hid material under the covers, under the bed, behind the headboard”
Freeman yearned to go to art school, dreaming of becoming a fabric designer, but her father strongly discouraged her aspirations. So she concentrated on her art work as a hobby that grew to an all-encompassing vocation. Today, her private collection numbers 200 eggs and she estimates that she has done 800 eggs over the years, most of which were given away as gifts. She shares her passion freely, teaching at churches, libraries and country clubs. She’s taught children in nursery school and at the Boys and Girls Club. Brownies and Girl Scouts and grown-ups. Some women have been coming to her classes since they were children.
In the Christian tradition, eggs symbolize the resurrection of Christ. They are an Easter metaphor of rebirth in many parts of the world. Today, at Easter time, Ukrainians paint their eggs in elaborate pysanky patterns using wax and a kistka tool; Italians wrap dough around a whole egg to bake their Easter bread; and American children roll hundreds of eggs across the White House lawn on Easter Sunday morning.
“Pick an egg to copy,” Freeman says as she begins each session, and everyone laughs. It’s fantasy to think that anyone can easily dupe her eggs but, nevertheless, everyone feels their creative juices kicking in and the fun begins.
The modus operandi is simple: With design in mind, participants choose their materials and then group around an island counter in the kitchen. Before them are the tools of the trade: scissors from nail-salon size to handyman pliers; two different glues depending on intensity needed; brushes to paint the egg with glue; paper plates on which to work and wet paper towels to get any gook off your fingers. They also have their three pristine eggs. The women tear small strips out of their chosen paper, apply glue to the egg, and carefully, artistically paste the strips on the egg. Paper edges must kiss, but no bulky overlaps allowed. Ziploc elements are added, and the ribbon is attached at the top if it is for hanging.
Freeman sits at the kitchen island as well, explaining procedures as she herself crafts a design and the hours tick away. Her large, expressive hands caress an egg as it morphs from a humble demeanor to one of exuberance.
“If you have imagination, there is no end to what you could do,” Freeman says. And that applies to her other creative endeavors as well: flower arranging, Valentine ornaments and cards, witches’ hats for a Halloween sit-down dinner where the decor is all black and orange, even to an afternoon of a proper Victorian tea.
As to the craft at hand, Freeman says as she stops to admire her students work, “There’s always mystery and romance in the finished egg.”
Rosemarie T. Anner is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.