One person’s meal, another’s medium

Sterling woman is egg-static over success selling art from eggshells

In her left palm Twyla Showalter cupped an egg. It was an ostrich egg, the size of an eggplant. In her right she griped a small drill.


She leaned forward in her chair, her elbows planted on a small square table in her wood-paneled workshop.

Everything was motionless, except for two wisps of blond hair that played across her face as she stared through her safety glasses, focused on the pencil lines on her egg.

And her pneumatic drill whined. The room sounded like cavities being drilled.

Then she released the drill’s foot pedal and — silence. A piece of eggshell shaped like a rose petal fell into the egg.

She set the egg and dentist drill down and leaned back. Her hands shook a little.

“I shake all the time unless I’m cutting,” she said.

The 40-year-old Sterling resident has been carving eggs since 1999. She picked up the habit from a friend in Arkansas. She said she comes from an “artsy” family, anyway. Her mother used to own the ceramics store in Sterling, her oldest daughter draws most of the designs on the eggs and her fiancé crafts intricate metal wire trees for Showalter’s eggs to hang on.

“Yeah, we’re kind of artsy, crafty people,” she said.

The eggs she carves are mostly Christmas tree ornaments.

“I like to try to do it as often as possible, even if I’m just giving them away,” she said. “I don’t even have any for my own tree. I give them away; that way I have a reason to do more.”

The ostrich egg sat on her table; a bouquet of rose pedals opened into the side of the egg.

“It’s kind of my favorite one to do,” she said, “the roses.”

A few other works-in-progress were in the corner of her desk in an open egg carton. Most were etched in goose eggs. Others were smaller chicken, duck, turkey, quail, bantam and peacock eggs. They were green, beige, freckled brown, white, yellow, salmon, black and graphite.

On most of them her oldest daughter had drawn designs for Showalter to follow with her drill — a tribal spider and wolf, a dreamcatcher and the profile of a pickup bouncing down a dotted yellow line.

“I don’t always do everything she draws,” she said, “because sometimes she gets the marks too close.”

Cutting thin lines on the smaller eggs is difficult, she said. The ostrich eggs have three layers in their shell and are thick, but chicken and turkey eggs only have one layer and her drill — spinning at 400,000 rounds per minute — tears through the shells if she moves too quickly, she said.

Also, they’re thin.

“You breathe on them and they’re through,” she said.

Those bad eggs — the ones she botches or cracks — she relegates to egg cartons and boxes or the windowsill in her workshop. She never throws them out; her oldest daughter insists on it.

“She takes them all,” Showalter said. “I don’t know what she does with them.”

When her five children were younger, she said they used to roll the ostrich eggs around on the floor. A chicken egg would crack, she said, but the ostrich eggs are thick enough.

Showalter buys 50 to 70 percent of her eggs in the state, but because, for instance, tundra, snow and subzero weather aren’t comfortable living conditions for an ostrich, she has to buy the exotic species on line.

She pays $20 for a single ostrich egg. About one out of 10 she cracks or cuts too far from the design.

“It’s not too bad at all,” she said. “As long as you don’t squeeze them, you’re OK.”

She takes them out of the cardboard boxes in bubble-wrapped cocoons, cuts them open and her daughter or Showalter draws in pencil the designs.

Up until the Nov. 23 and 24 Kenai Central High School holiday bazaar, Showalter had been carving only for family, friends and fun. But, after five years of prodding from her fiancé, she brought 20 eggs and more than 100 hand-made business cards to the bazaar.

She sold all her eggs and received 13 orders. One woman, she said, is even going to bring Showalter ostrich eggs she collected in Africa to carve.

“And it’s interesting what they think to put on an egg,” she said. “I mean, I never though of putting a frog on one until I got an order.”

Though the validation is nice, she said she will stop selling them if it becomes work.

“Like anything else, if you can’t enjoy it, then it’s just a job,” she said.

Next year she wants to sell some of her egg artwork through local gift stores, but she said she needs a business license from the Borough first.

“We’ll see how that goes,” she said.


Dan Schwartz can be reached at