An ‘eggsceptionally’ talented lady, handcrafts and decorates Faberge-style eggs
By Indira Rodericks / Upper Crust Magazine.
There’s never a dull moment in Mani Cooper’s life. A lady of rare and extraordinary talent, when she’s not dabbling in egg-craft, she paints on silk, specialises in Pergamano which is parchment craft, does quilling and sculpts. But her greatest love remains egg-craft.
Egg-craft is an art she picked up as recently as 1997 and in a short span of eight years, she has mastered the skill to perfection. She works quietly and single-handedly from her Kemp’s Corner residence in Bombay, a flat on the 20th floor overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Quite simply, egg-craft means decorating egg shells in the Faberge style. Though, Faberge mainly used metal as his medium and moulded it to resemble an egg. “I and my late husband Khatu were extremely fond of cruises and on many of the liners hobby classes for the passengers were conducted. On one trip there were classes for egg-craft which I attended. It was very rudimentary, nothing fancy, just basic decoration techniques,” she said. But she and a few others coaxed the instructor to hold extra classes, beginning with the basic technique of learning to cut an egg. “Now when I think of it, all those extra hours really paid off,” she added.
Learning the art was not good enough, Mani had to perfect it. And since she knew that India had no trained teacher she took it upon herself to master it. “I found that the internet was a great source of information,” she said with a smile. “And I bought tons of books on techniques and designs. Initially I just did basic decorations, but soon I graduated to intricate designs.” Recently, Mani held her first exhibition where she displayed 100 beautiful Faberge creations at her residence. Sadly, none of the pieces were for sale, she never intended to sell them. Once the exhibition was over, she carefully returned them to the display cabinet in her living room.
“I started working on this pieces in 1997, but I took a break for about a year. My husband who passed away a week after the show, was keen that I finish and hold this exhibition. Well, I’m glad I did, since it had been his wish. Now when I think of it, if I didn’t do it, I would feel terrible for the rest of my life,” she said.
While chicken eggs (obtained locally) are used, Mani sources goose eggs, ostrich eggs, duck eggs, guinea fowl eggs, rhea eggs, turkey eggs, emu eggs even tiny sparrow eggs from the United Kingdom. “Decorating an egg is a long and tedious process,” she explained. “It requires concentration and patience. And if the eggs break, which happens often, you have to start all over again.”
The procedure is not so simple. The egg is first blown by drilling a hole to remove the contents. Then, the egg is sanded to smoothen the shell and to give it a natural gloss. Thereafter the design is drawn or engraved and the egg is cut with an electric or an air compress drill. A compress drill is only used for small delicate eggs to prevent them from cracking. The decoration then begins —painting, varnishing, glazing, fixing the hinges, filigrees, rhinestones, ribbon and other trimmings. A final glaze is put on to protect and seal the egg which is then mounted on an appropriate base or stand. Incidentally, all the material used, the paints, decorations, even the glue, Mani gets from the UK.
“Previously, when I or friends travelled abroad, they would pick up the accessories for me. As a result, I have enough to last me a lifetime. Decorating an egg can take anything from one day to one week. It all depends on how intricate the design is. There are some designs that require 8-10 coats of paint and after each coat, they have to be sandpapered. But if the eggs break, I have to begin all over again. People don’t realise how much effort goes into creating these masterpieces. The point is everything is handcrafted by me, I don’t have any assistants, so they cannot be mass produced.”
You can catch a glimpse of Cinderalla riding to the ball in her glittering coach made out of a goose egg. Two doors on either side of the coach open on hinges. The coach is elaborately decorated with filigrees and rhinestones and is drawn by two white horses. There’s also the very colourful emu egg (the shell maintained in its original dark colour) featuring a butterfly which revolves nestling amidst flowers. The front opening is framed by a floral edge of miscellaneous flowers — the back features an irregular trellis. The egg is perched on a rose coloured velvet base with a single white flower on a top.
Another interesting creation is the Nativity scene. An ostrich egg laid horizontally painted in earth colours resting on an earthen tray. Deep inside the egg is featured a Nativity scene in the background of the manger and a crib with Baby Jesus nestled in the hay in front of it. A light shines above the crib. There’s Mother Mary sitting on the right, and Joseph is on the left. The three wise men bearing gifts are standing outside to pay their homage to Jesus to the strains of Silent Night, Holy Night. Completing the scene is a goat and a farmer.
Or feast your eyes on the Wedding Arch. Created from a goose egg, the bride and the groom pose suspended inside the egg. The arch is decorated with pink and white silk roses and large pink bows. A heart at the foot of the arch symbolises love. Two tiny wedding bells are perched on top of the egg and a pearl bell at the bottom of egg.
Mani has had innumerable requests from people to conduct classes. Much as she would like to, the non-availability of the raw material locally prevents her from doing so. “I would have to provide everything from the eggs to the raw materials. How much would I charge then, it is not financially viable.”
Has she ever thought of selling these exquisite pieces? “No, not really. Maybe later if someone wants a customised egg, but mass production is not what I am looking at. But for the moment I just want everyone to have a look at the beauty of Faberge eggs,” she laughed and said.
Article forwarded via email by Mickie Sorabjee.