The Egg Queen: Ancient family tradition becomes artistic expression

Amy Andrews of New Albany draws from her Ukrainian heritage when she creates decorative eggs all year long. Andrews decorates chicken, goose (seen here) and ostrich eggs, and she uses natural dyes like onion peel, and cabbage - like the ones below. (Lauren Wood)

Amy Andrews of New Albany draws from her Ukrainian heritage when she creates decorative eggs all year long. Andrews decorates chicken, goose (seen here) and ostrich eggs, and she uses natural dyes like onion peel, and cabbage – like the ones below. (Lauren Wood)

By M. Scott Morris
Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – Easter eggs are important to Amy Nolan Andrews, but so are Christmas eggs and anytime eggs.

Her affinity grew out of her Ukrainian heritage. As a child, she watched as her grandmother, mother and aunts carried on a cultural tradition that goes back thousands of years.

“It dates to ancient times, pagan times. People have been writing on eggs a long, long time,” she said. “They actually found painted ostrich eggs in Egyptian tombs. They were found in archeological sites from the 13th or 14th centuries.”

In pre-Christian days, people believed the egg had magical powers. They decorated and marked their eggs with symbols that would bring happiness or wealth. Young men gave eggs to the objects of their affection.

“They saw a likeness between the yellow yolk of the egg and the sun,” said Andrews, a New Albany resident. “These ancient people noticed it and it gave the eggs power. It was also related to fertility.”

When Christianity swept the world, old traditions and festivals were given new life. Easter eggs are a prime example, and Easter is prime time for Andrews.

“If the schools are going to have me in for demonstrations, they like it to be the week or so before Easter,” she said.

But decorative eggs aren’t confined to one sliver of the year at the Andrews household.

“She loves it. She’s passionate about it,” said her husband, Buddy Andrews. “It’s her art medium that she works in.”

Andrews has a degree in fine art from Blue Mountain College, and she studied at the Carnegie Institute of Art in Pittsburgh, Pa. She does calligraphy and makes small graphic art pieces, and she always has her eggs.

“My own style seems to have evolved from what I saw my mother and aunts doing,” she said, “but I’m not doing it the way they did.”

Andrews adapted to suit her situation. For one thing, it was tough to find traditional Ukrainian egg decorating supplies in the days before the Internet.

Easter provided her answer. Specifically, she started using the same Paas egg dye kits that many are already familiar with.

“It was a lot of trial and error,” she said. “If you follow the directions, you’ll get ‘blah’ eggs. I want colors that pop.”

Layer upon layer
Hers is a simple process, but it isn’t easy. She puts the yellow, red, blue and green dye into bowls then fills each with enough vinegar to reach the bottom third of the egg.

“Vinegar concentrates the dye,” she said. “Putting the water in dilutes it. I don’t want that.”

Next, it’s a matter of soaking eggs in different colors for varying lengths of time, which sounds easy, until an egg accidentally rolls too far in the wrong direction and the nice, clean lines are lost.

She experiments by mixing the Paas dyes together to get different colors.

“I put layer upon layer upon layer,” she said.

Natural materials like purple cabbage and onion skins can be put to work, too.

For example, she’ll fill the bottom of a pot with onion skins, then put in the eggs and fill the water level just above the eggs. Bring it to a boil and take it off the heat, then the eggs can sit for a day to get a rich, autumnal color.

“You can see the color almost immediately with the onion skins,” she said. “It takes about two hours before you can see the color with the shredded cabbage.”

For her Paas creations, Andrews often uses Q-tips to remove some of the color to create flowing and fluid patterns that are inspired by her love for art nouveau.

“That’s what I like to do,” she said. “When I teach kids, they like to put their names on their eggs. Some will make footballs.”

Permanence, impermanence
She produces centerpiece-quality eggs that are just as likely to feature Christmas colors as spring colors. She’s never done Halloween eggs, but said that wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Eggs being eggs, there’s a certain amount of impermanence involved. When working with first-timers, either kids or adults, she uses hard-boiled eggs because they don’t make a mess when they break.

On the negative side, hard-boiled eggs go bad after four or five days. On the positive side, her husband helps her dispose of eggs that fail to meet her standards.

“I experiment with Buddy’s lunch,” she said.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” he said. “I do what I can to help out.”

Andrews also uses emptied or blown eggs. Her mother and grandmother were experts at blowing eggs, but experience has taught Andrews that it’s better to buy hers.

“I got a dozen eggs one time. I got a safety pin. I pricked a hole, and I shook it and got it cleaned out. I ran water in there. I thought I got them so clean,” she said. “When I came down the next morning, I walked into the most horrendous odor.”

It might be surprising to know that a plain egg that hasn’t been hard-boiled or blown can last for a prolonged time, even years, if it’s stored in a dry place that gets good ventilation and isn’t subject to extremes of heat or cold.

“They dry on their own (on the inside). You have them as long as you have them, until they accidentally fall off the table and crack,” she said. “If there is a hairline crack, and sometimes you can’t see them, that will cause problems.”

After the dyeing and drying, her colored eggs get an extra shine. Olive oil does the job for hard-boiled eggs, and polyurethane works for the others.

Spreading her passion
She’s happy to teach people about her art form, and summer is her time to get creative so she’ll have examples to show her young and old pupils.

“I love doing it, and I love being able to show people there’s more to dyeing eggs than following the directions on the kits,” she said. “You just do what you want to. You try things and play around and see what you get.”

Early attempts might not be worth much to anyone, other than for breakfast or lunch. That’s to be expected. Remember that Andrews has an ancient family tradition and years of practice behind her.

“I am the Egg Queen,” she said. “I used to be the Egg Lady, but I gave myself a promotion. All my friends know me as the Egg Queen.”

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