Ouray woman turns eggshells into pieces of art
The Daily Sentinel
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – Eggs can be scrambled, fried and whipped into a meringue. However, in Carla Ute Kelly’s Ouray home, eggs double as night lights or fountains.
For more than three years, Kelly, 65, has carved intricate designs, scenes or animal figures into the sides of emu, rhea, goose and ostrich eggs, the latter being the size of a small football.
She creates them using an air tool she describes as “similar to what a dentist uses to work on dentures.”
The tool, into which she inserts carbide or diamond burs of various shapes and sizes to give her carving precision, is connected to an air compressor kept on the lower level of her home to muffle its noise.
A cord is rigged to come up through the floor and connect the air compressor with the tool on Kelly’s work desk.
Kelly has destroyed “a lot” of eggs. She actually doesn’t know how many eggs she has broken.
It took her a while to learn just how much pressure to apply to egg- shells to get the looks she desired.
But after three years and 40 finished ostrich eggs, Kelly has become internationally known for her eggshells.
An annual highlight for egg artists is the International Egg Art Guild’s Eggs-Ibit International in Dallas.
Kelly made her Eggs-Ibit debut in 2007, the same year she started carving eggs and moved to Ouray. While she entered an egg in the Eggs-Ibit, she had no plans to win anything. She just went to see how other egg artists worked.
However, “Dancing Dragons,” an ostrich egg with two dragons carved into opposite sides, won a blue ribbon and plaque.
“I blew people out of the water,” Kelly said.
In addition to winning an award for her carving ability, Kelly learned that not all egg artists are the same.
Although she doesn’t use glitter, paint, rhinestones and other decorative elements on her eggs, some egg artists do. Kelly found there are many different categories of egg artists, and she considers herself “a naturalist.”
“I like the pure carving,” she said.
Kelly’s preference to avoid ornate decorations likely has something to do with her artistic background.
Before Kelly began carving eggs, she etched glass and carved wood while living in Missouri. That work developed the skills she now uses in egg carving.
For the most, Kelly has spent the past several years working in relative obscurity outside Ouray. Her home overlooks mountains, and her driveway steeply climbs a hill.
Kelly, who moved to the United States from Germany in 1973, has made some custom-ordered eggs and attended a few craft shows in Ouray and Denver.
Normally, she works from her home and promotes egg art on the Internet.
Among the eggs she has finished is one with a mermaid carved out of a shell and set up as a small indoor fountain.
Another egg is a spinning night light illuminated from the inside with a scene of running wild mustangs and mesas on the outside.
Anyone interested in buying that night light will be disappointed to know it already is taken by Kelly’s 10-year-old granddaughter.
“I promised I would keep it and give it to her when she’s older,” Kelly said. “Every time she comes to Grandma’s house, that’s her night light.”
Kelly would love to sell more of her eggs in Colorado and across the country, but potential buyers often appear to be scared they might break the seemingly delicate shells. At the few shows she has attended, people don’t want to even breathe near her table.
“People think (the eggs) are so fragile that if they touch them they will break,” Kelly said.
In reality, ostrich eggs have a porcelain-like feel to them. They will break if smashed into something, but they can be picked up and moved quite safely, she said.
Carved eggs also can be original and beautiful cake toppers, and the egg’s connection with Easter makes it an obvious holiday decoration.
However, Kelly admits she has never carved an egg for Easter and doesn’t dye eggs for the holiday. In fact, she doesn’t dye eggs at all.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t love each of the eggs she has meticulously carved under a lamp.
“They are my babies,” Kelly said.