The Egg Shelf
A few weeks later, Rob called back with a special request. He wanted to order all of the back issues, but preferred to drive to my home to pick them up in person. Since I work seven days a week taking time off typically only for kid functions, I figured that I deserved a day of leisure so we made the arrangements. Folks, the only other egger Ive ever met in my life is my dear friend Pat Lenz from Hills, Iowa, and although I truly enjoy talking eggs with Pat, in terms of egging styles were kind of like Donny and Marie Osmond: Pats a little bit Country and Im a little bit Rock n Roll. So Im here to tell you that spending the day with another eggshell carver was an incredible thrill for me!
Although Rob is not a formally trained artist, he was born in a cold-water flat in Greenwich Village, New York, so perhaps he absorbed something from the artists who congregated in Greenwich Village back then. While he was still a babe in arms, however, Robs family moved to Boone County, Missouri where Rob has pretty much hung his hat ever since.
In the mid 1980s, after decades of stress related to owning businesses as diverse as coin-operated laundries, auto parts, property development and construction, Rob decided to seek a more satisfying lifestyle by divesting himself of all of the businesses (and his marriage as well). He kicked around for several years, just getting by, until one eventful Sunday that transformed his life. As Rob puts it, "through an article in the Sunday paper, I met the emu." The idea of becoming involved with these magnificent ratites festered in his mind for about ten days before Rob realized that "the Great Spirit had already ordained it!" He spent one year in research and preparation before getting his first pair of birds in August of 1994.
It wasnt until October of 1998 that Rob decided to start carving his eggshells in order to supplement his income. He knew that other people were creating artwork from emu shells, and hed never seen any first-hand, but armed with his trusty Dremel tool he dived right in. That didnt last long as the Dremel was very awkward to hold, so upon a friends advice, he got a Vigor brand jewelers drill with a flex shaft, which he uses to power a Foredom handpiece rotating at 16,000 rpms. As you can clearly see from the pictures of Robs work, this tool has served him well and Rob now says that he has no idea what, if anything, could ever stop him from carving eggs.
Where does he get his inspiration? Good question! As you look at Robs eggs you get a strong sense that the designs carry definite signs of Australian aboriginal art. But how did these influences take root in Missouri? Rob credits a book titled Mutant Message Down Under written by Marlo Morgan. The book is a non-fictional account of Ms. Morgans experiences while traveling with a small group of aborigines through the outback of Australia. Raising emu had sparked Robs interest in Australian culture, but until he read this book, aboriginal art was a complete mystery to him. Sometimes chilling, but always interesting, the book allowed Rob to identify somehow with the aboriginal artist and the pictures of his eggs that you see here bear the influence of what Rob was able to learn. So how does this creative process work in Robs case?
When he first started carving eggshells, Rob simply sat down and stared at the shell until a "hint" of something would emerge and then hed be off to the races. At times, however, this "hint" would veer off the course and strike out on its own, carrying Rob and his drill along with it. Rob admits that at times he uses a white china marker to sketch just a few guide marks on the shell, but even then the shell can get independent and force Rob into uncharted waters. If no strong "hint" presents itself, he just sits down and touches his bur to the surface of the shell, winding this way and that, until a concrete direction arises. As you can see from the eggs presented here, these methods work pretty darn well!
I was fortunate enough to watch this process in action as Rob sat down with my air tool and went to work. From the picture here, you can see that Rob holds his drill as if it were a knife with which he was whittling. It was fascinating for me to watch the shapes take form as the shell led him down a meandering path, and we both learned a few things about drills and their capabilities as well.
This will come as good news to all of you who have slow speed drills and either cant afford a high speed drill or simply dont want to invest in one. Every piece that you see here was done with Robs 16,000 rpm drill. Obviously, theres no reason for Rob to move up to a faster drill right now not when he creates such beauty with the drill he has. If, at some point, he decides to cut intricate shapes all the way through the shell, perhaps there will be reason to upgrade his tools, but as of right now, things are spinning along just fine. And more good news: Rob uses a very small assortment of burs to produce this beautiful work.
The thing to remember about slow speed drills is that they
almost require you to use diamond burs. Carbide burs just dont do the trick
at slow speeds. At high speeds, such as with an air tool, carbides do a fine job
and are more economical because they last longer and are less expensive to begin
with. At any rate, Rob does the vast majority of what you see here with 4
different sizes of diamond ball burs. The only other burs he regularly uses are
a diamond cylinder bur for removing shell in large areas, and a rubber wheel bur
for final polishing. It is this last bur that captivates me. Rob showed me
several eggs that had absolutely no sealer on them, and yet they glistened as if
made of glass.
Rob explained that he was just fooling around with various burs when he stumbled upon the strange results Im describing. Apparently, the action of the rubber bur, along with the heat that it produces, somehow changes the composition of the shell after a while, in effect annealing the surface! You can bet that Ill now be ordering all sorts of bizarre burs from my dental supplier in hopes of stumbling across other valuable types of cutters and polishers, and Ill report my findings in The Eggshell Sculptor.
As further proof that you dont need an ultra high-speed drill to create absolutely wondrous works of art, please allow me to introduce you to one of the most awesome eggs I have ever seen another Rob Ghio creation called Spider on the Moon. Now those of you who have carved emu eggs know very well how thin the innermost white layer is. As you look at the picture above, please understand that the light portions of this egg constitute this fragile white layer it is not a trick and I have not doctored the picture. Im sure that those of you who know me well will be shocked to hear that as I held this egg in my hands I was rendered speechless. True! And to think that it was done entirely with a 16,000 rpm tool! So, the next time youre lamenting the fact that you dont have a high speed tool to work with, just grab thy old Dremel and get thee to work!
And, as if you need further evidence of Robs
creativity, check out his gourd work on this page.
Hes not only made a bowl out of a large, dried-out gourd, but Rob has also
scribed detail work onto the surface of the gourd with a wood burner, and hes
inlaid several pieces of carved emu shell throughout
the design. Quite a combination of elements and methods, wouldnt you say? Rob
has been showing his eggs at a farm show each November, and in 1998 he saw a
display of hand-worked gourds which blew him away! As he says, "the
gourd bug bit me real bad!" Ive seen gourd work before and I know
that many eggers, especially in California, are deeply involved in both artforms, but I dont think that Ive seen anything quite like this before.
Not one to waste innovative ideas or shards of broken shell, Rob also began to make jewelry from small pieces of gourd inlaid with carved emu shell such as the ones pictured here. They are gorgeous and bring to mind the turquoise jewelry thats so popular in the Southwest. The necklace pictured here is a good example, as is the brooch.
Luckily for us, Rob has a few other creative tricks up his sleeve, concepts that he and I very much enjoyed discussing during his visit. In fact, Im sure that some of you are wondering why in the heck Im showing gourds and jewelry in the Egg Shelf. The bottom line is that Im a lover of innovation and creativity and feel that we all need to keep an open mind about our art and where it might possibly take us. And, I hope that by seeing what other people are doing, you the reader will be inspired and motivated to spread your own wings into uncharted territories, territories youve never dared dream of before.
Should you desire to contact Rob for any reason, (especially to praise his incredible work) you may call him at (573) 696-3454, or if you prefer the convenience of email, he can be reached at email@example.com. Oh, Short Betty is his wonderfully supportive wife and she wont even bite your head off if you call her Short Betty! Yes, we Midwesterners are a strange lot. Finally, you can see Robs eggs in all their colorful glory on the web at http://www.rockyforkfarms.com .
At the outset of this article I referred to Rob as a sort of modern-day Santa Claus, a distinction that was borne out by the fact that when he left to go home to Short Betty in Missouri that Wednesday night after what was for me a perfect day, he also left a number of gifts behind: emu sausage; a wide variety of emu oil products that my entire family is using; his home-spun stories; memories of his stunning eggs and most importantly his unconditional friendship.
Thank you Rob, for everything