Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

November 17, 2013

Faberges inspired area artist Helen Witt

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.

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