Morris Museum ‘Egg-Zibit’ spotlights Grade A pioneer



At last, someone has found a better use for goose eggs than hatching them into more geese.

Paul Wirhun, one of the featured artists in the Morris Museum’s Egg-Zibit: The Art, Science and Culture of Eggs, has pioneered an intricate process for turning assorted eggshells into mosaic-like paintings.

Artist Paul Wirhun. a.k.a. 'Eggman,' is featured in the Morris Museum's 'Egg-zibit' through Easter 2014. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Artist Paul Wirhun. a.k.a. ‘Eggman,’ is featured in the Morris Museum’s ‘Egg-zibit’ through Easter 2014. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“The surface of a shell is interesting to work with. Different types of shells have different textures, and handle dyes differently,” the Brooklyn artist said during a visit to Morris Township, where the Egg-zibit runs until Easter 2014.

Up close, his Brooklyn Bridge resembles a snakeskin jigsaw puzzle. Actually, it is a canvas of shell flakes, epoxied in place, dyed, lacquered and sanded.

“The dye goes into the surface, not onto it,” explained Paul, who also answers to Eggman.

(Full disclosure: Paul is my cousin. Please don’t hold this against him.)

The Eggman’s fascination with eggs stretches back more than four decades, when his mom (my Aunt Tess) taught him pysanky, the traditional Ukrainian art of egg painting. He was a hit with women’s clubs and college libraries, selling painted eggs through his teen years in Connecticut.

Although associated with Easter, pysanky pre-dates Christianity. Paul said many egg designs harken to Slavic symbols of fertility, bountiful harvests, protection from evil and so forth. Deer, rams and other horned creatures, for example, represent health and wealth; eggs depicting these images are power objects that traditionally would be given to men as gifts, he said.

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Pysanky  took a back seat while Paul studied for the priesthood. Ecclesiastical life was not for him, however, and he found himself searching for a career in the early 1990s.  An artist friend, Steed Taylor, asked him what he would be if he had all the time and money in the world.

“I blurted, Artist!” Paul recounted. “And then I looked at one of these eggs and had an Aha! moment.”

He began experimenting.


ONE SHELL OF A WORLD: Actually, many shell flakes comprise this globe, by artist Paul Wirhun on display at the Morris Museum. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

ONE SHELL OF A WORLD: Actually, many shell flakes comprise this globe, by artist Paul Wirhun on display at the Morris Museum. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Traditional eggs are a talisman that speaks to the needs of a neolithic society. I wanted to create eggs as a talisman for contemporary times,” Paul said.

One of his recurring themes, A New Worldview, is a globe with the countries stripped away, leaving only an eggshell topography.

You can see such a globe at the Morris Museum.  Another version is included in the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt,  a New York contest featuring eggs designed by more than 250 top artists and fashion brands, from Jeff Koons to Diane von Furstenberg.

Paul’s entry can be found at the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. After April 17, 2014, all of the Egg Hunt pieces will be displayed at Rockefeller Center before being auctioned for the Elephant Family wildlife charity.

Another exhibition of Paul’s eggshell art, entitled When My World Fell Apart, runs from April 16-23 at the Ivy Brown Gallery in New York. Friends can egg you on to try this yourself; Paul’s class on April 18 costs $35 and includes materials — so you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket on a crowded subway.

While Paul’s most frequent medium is chicken eggshells (grainy), he has dabbled in ostrich shells (pitted), duck shells (smooth) and yes, goose shells (grainy).

In the interests of preventing Canadian fowl from fouling Burnham Pond, Morristown environmentalists may want to consider rustling a few hundred goose eggs on behalf of the Eggman.

After all, how often can you preserve nature and be a patron of the arts?


Morris Museum, through April 19, 2014

6 Normandy Heights Road, Morris Township

Admission: Adults $10; seniors, children 3-12, $7; members, children under 3, free.

Pay-as-you-wish, second- and third Thursdays, 4 pm-8 pm.

Open Tuesday-Saturday 11 am-5 pm, Sunday noon-5 pm.

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