EMPIRE — Art is where you find and make it.
And Helen Witt discovered and created art within the confines of egg shells that she painted, decorated and filled with intricate scenes that included miniature people, animals, trees and even ladybugs made and carefully painted before setting them into the shells, often with toothpicks.
Witt, an Empire native, began decorating the eggs in the late 1960s after reading a book about the famous jeweled Fabergé eggs created for Russian czars by Peter Carl Fabergé from 1885 through 1916.
By the mid-1990s, Helen had decorated the exteriors and interiors of some 6,000 eggs, according to old newspaper accounts. She died in 2005 at age 86. That total includes1,000 she sold in 1982 to Disney World in Florida.
Her son, retired printer Bill Witt of Mesick, said sale prices for her eggs varied from $100 to $500. He places their value today at $5,000 to $10,000, depending on size.
Seventy-one of Helen Witt’s eggs now are on display for two years at the Empire Museum Complex. Dave Taghon, president of the Empire Heritage Association, hopes the display eventually can become part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Her husband, William, a Grand Traverse County accountant as well as a stained glass artist, used a small Dremel tool with a diamond tip to make the delicate cuts in the shells to create the opening so that yolks could be removed. Sometimes he poked small holes on the ends of the eggs and blew the yokes out. He then clear-coated each egg to strengthen and protect it. Another one of his jobs was to attach tiny metal hinges so that doors could be made on some of the shells.
Witt would like to see the collection go to the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex in Washington, D.C., but has not yet contacted officials there.
“I think the world should see what my mother did, and the world can’t see them if they aren’t where the world goes,” Bill Witt said.
He recalls the long hours his mother worked daily, first at the kitchen table, painting the eggs and the miniature figures, animals, and other objects made of crustless white bread, vinegar and other things. She started with chicken eggs and graduated to turkey, ostrich and other eggs.
She worked on five chicken-size egg shells or three large shells at a time.
“What she liked about this work was being able to be creative and express herself,” Bill said. “She enjoyed creating things, especially the people and the things that went inside the scene. You won’t believe what my mother did. The only way I believe is because I saw it.”
William Witt died in 1997.
The Empire Museum Complex is open by appointment only during the winter. Call Taghon at 231-326-5519, for more information or to make an appointment. It is open every day but Wednesdays in the summer, Taghon said.