Beth Ann Magnuson traces her affection for offbeat art to her mother and grandmother, whose "use what you have" mentality taught her to see aesthetic value even in humble objects. But it wasn't until she moved from New York City to rural Illinois about 20 years ago that a local "farm gal" opened her eyes to the full potential of some of the humblest: eggs. Whereas most of us regard them as things to boil, scramble, fry—and, come Easter, dye—Magnuson looks at an egg and sees a masterpiece.
On a typical workday, Magnuson retreats to her studio, cranks up Erik Satie or Jimi Hendrix on her headphones, slips on a protective mask, and carves intricate designs into a half-dozen eggs. She begins by drilling a small hole into the blunt end and blowing out the white and yolk. Next, she draws a design—often based on handwoven Victorian lace or 19th-century floral wallpaper—on the shell. For the actual carving, she uses a high-speed dental drill—which, she says, cuts the shell "like a hot knife in butter." She then cleans each egg in a bleach solution and applies a protective coating to prevent erosion. Once they're dry, Magnuson sells the intricate creations on her Web site, WindyCornerFarm.com. While she prefers to come up with her own patterns ("It"s a doodler's art," she says), she has also carved swans, angels, and elephants for custom orders.
Describing the first time she carved an egg ("I stayed up all night, drilling and carving and doodling"), Magnuson speaks with so much enthusiasm that you"d be forgiven for thinking she discovered the art form only last week. But after two decades, the unusual work has in fact become soothingly familiar—a process as delicate and durable as the eggshells themselves.