AK Art: Sterling artist carves her niche in community
It all started with a bet.
In 2012, Twyla Showalter struck a deal with the man who is now her husband and agreed to sell her eggshell carvings at a Kenai Central High School holiday bazaar. If it went horribly, he would stop bugging her about turning her art into a business. If it went well, she would make the craft a full-fledged operation.
“We walked in with 65 eggs and I walked out with five eggs and 18 orders,” said Showalter, who was born and raised in Soldotna and now lives in Sterling. She was a hit.
Saturday, people at the Alaska State Fair stopped and stared as Showalter, 41, sat in a chair outside her booth and meticulously carved a palm-sized egg with a dental drill. In a matter of minutes, a floral pattern emerged on the ivory-colored egg. Nearby, her spouse Mike McKenzie, 45, greeted the potential customers who paused in front of her shop or filtered inside.
It’s the only thing that goes the perfect speed, she said of the drill, which she has dozens of different bits for.
“[The drill] doesn’t vibrate the eggshell and shatter it, but [moves] slow enough it doesn’t burn it,” she explained.
Years ago, Showalter was on vacation in Arkansas and went to an “eggery show,” essentially about “everything you can do with an egg,” she said. She found a man carving eggshells there and was intrigued.
“I sat there and bugged him for over two hours,” she said.
Finally, he asked her if she wanted to try her hand at carving.
“I think it was probably more to get me to shut up and to leave him alone,” she said, laughing.
The mother to three was hooked. She started carving for friends and family in ’99, and over the years has found her niche within the Alaska art scene as a full-time eggshell carver.
Today, she gets quail, chicken, goose, turkey and duck eggs from Alaska farmers and purchases ostrich and emu eggs from the Lower 48 for her carvings. An oyster shell mixture on the eggs contains calcium that makes the shells thicker, tough enough for her drill.
Christmas is great for business. Inside her booth at the fair, eggshell ornaments with moose, penguin, Santa and other designs dangled from miniature Christmas trees. The Santa Claus House in North Pole holds some of her work.
Weddings are another area where she shines. The eggshells, which can be personalized, make for great wedding cake toppers that can later be used as lamps if a light is inserted inside.
She’s shipped her work to almost all 50 states and as far away as Australia and Germany. That’s where McKenzie comes in, who seemed at ease chatting with fairgoers Saturday afternoon. She’s happy for his help promoting and running the business, said Showalter, who’s content to stay out of the spotlight and focus on her work.
He also does what he can with the artistic process, removing the egg innards with a meat injector after a tiny hole — large enough for a Christmas tree light or a flameless candle — is drilled. Then, Showalter is free to work her magic.
“I always have to pick the odd things to do,” she said with a wry smile, adding how McKenzie, originally from Fairbanks, thought she was nuts when she first told him she carved eggshells as a hobby. Now he’s her biggest fan.
She has many other fans, too. Saturday afternoon, she was carving outside her booth to keep up with demand.
“This year it’s been tremendous,” she said of her experience at the Alaska State Fair. “We’ll be back next year.”
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