A few quick swipes of the knife blade and the forehead appeared.
Several more precise scratches and the eyelid, then the eye, of Christ emerged from the red onion dye of the double-yolk goose egg.
By the time Sister Mary Vladimira Havelock was finished delicately scraping away layers of the dye, Christ's face, surrounded by a glowing halo, looked out at several ladies at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church.
"I wanted to get her here so she can show people how to do it in case somebody wants to pick it up," said Denise Hickey, who organized Sister Mary's recent demonstration at the Grovetown-area church.
Sister Mary, one of two sisters affiliated with St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Melkite Church in Augusta, learned the art form of illumination in 1987. It involves dyeing eggs by boiling them with onion skins, and then gently scratching away layers of dye.
Sister Mary is one of the few people who know the technique.
"Just look for the light," Sister Mary told the group. "The light that is in the face. ... What you want to be light, you take away."
Sister Mary, a former U.S. Marine and an expediter for Shell Oil Co. in Houston, also was a painter before entering religious life. She discovered the art form after reading an article on scratch-carving.
She saw it as a way to support her convent, whose members were living on $20 per week in mobile homes on a piece of property in New York.
"There's always a motivation, a reason for doing something," Sister Mary said. "We weren't starving, but we really weren't doing very well. We were told that to be a formal community, we had to be self-supporting."
Traditionally, the English have used scratch carving to portray nature scenes. But Sister Mary wanted her work to reflect holy images and icons. After trying a lamb, Sister Mary spent two weeks working on the face of Christ.
When a woman purchased the egg for $10, Sister Mary said she was elated and encouraged to continue her work. She usually uses Canadian goose eggs, but also has used ostrich, quail, duck, pigeon and turkey eggs.
"Turkey eggs are small, but they just dye beautifully and they do real well," Sister Mary said. "Turkey eggs are lovely."
Sister Mary said she looks for ovals in the eggs.
"I saw the oval first,' Sister Mary said of that first attempt to carve Christ's face on the surface of a dyed egg. "Then, like a miracle, I saw light. I saw the light. I saw the light on the face. I saw what could be done."
In her 22 years creating "illumination" eggs, she has sold thousands, some for more than $2,000 each. She appeared with Sister Angelica on the EWTN Global Catholic Network, where she scratched Christ's face onto an egg in a half hour.
"When she told me she could do a face in a half hour, I was impressed," said Hickey, who was excited to try her hand at illumination. "I thought I was going to do one today. I already have my picture."
Sister Mary gave an overview and some tips to the women and allowed them to practice on black scratchboard paper.
But the group was much more interested in watching Sister Mary re-create Christ's face on an egg.
"Isn't that fantastic?" said Leanor Lane as she watched Sister Mary bring Christ's eyes to life at the recent illumination seminar. "This is a gift."
Sister Mary said she doesn't often have time to teach, so she only does when someone is passionate about learning illumination.
"It almost has to be a calling," she said.
Sister Mary's egg icons often are finished with varnish and adorned with gold leaf or beads and are mounted on gold pedestals. They sell for $50 to $2,000.
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