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‘Struggles and Triumphs’

A journey towards egg-cellence

Cherry Hill egg sculptor Cherie Lee was one of eight interdisciplinary finalists to receive funding from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts in March.

Although she has worked with a number of materials, for Lee, eggshells have been the canvas of her choice. Throughout her 40 years as an egg carver, Lee has carved hundreds of eggs using a dental drill. The process can vary and take as many as 80 hours of drill time over the course of a month. Her work has been featured using chicken, duck, and ostrich eggs.

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“For the life of me, I don’t even eat eggs,” Lee said. “I haven’t since I was an infant and I got violently ill on them and never had them since. There’s a good family joke that I’m trying to find something beautiful out of something that nearly killed me.”

The eggs vary a lot in color, texture, size, shape and theme. She had designed more eggs than she was able to keep up with at that time. The eggs track like a diary and showcase her triumphs and struggles throughout life.

“For me, it’s a puzzle, it’s how much of the egg can I remove and leave the story behind?” Lee questioned. “I started weighing them out of curiosity to see if I could remove 50 percent or 70 percent or 80 percent without it losing its strength and integrity, and that becomes a metaphor too.”

Lee’s journey as an eggshell artist began around 40 years ago when she was browsing through a magazine and saw an ad for a ceramic egg in a jewelry box, which she thought was a good gift idea for her sister. She decided to try and make it herself.

“It was ignorance and poverty,” Lee said, laughing at the memory. ” … I was too ignorant to realize it was not a real egg.”

Though she’d never done it before, it didn’t stop her from getting a drill bit to drill enough tiny holes in a chicken egg to put a heart in it. When she decided to become more serious about her craft, she was living on a relative’s sofa and had enough money for either her car or to buy a drill to further her art. Lee chose the drill, because she knew it would take her further.

Her gift to her sister started with a regular chicken egg from the store, but she has since grown to work with bigger eggs and to create more intricate designs. Though she admits it is not her best work, one egg featuring a crane in the wetlands sits in the White House as the New Jersey State egg from the annual national egg art competition.

Throughout her life, Lee has dealt with difficult situations. She has reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome and called complex regional pain syndrome that impacts her sympathetic and parasympathetic systems which makes her feel like her body is always under physical attack or in pain. She has been through divorce and has been homeless while also raising kids.

But all of these experiences were used to create the art she makes today.

“Before I got the drill, just a bunch of it looks like band aids holding the piece together because that’s when my world was falling apart,” Lee explained. “And then you see the music notes and that’s because that’s when I finally started discovering that there were these fellowships and residencies and I saw a path forward.”

The eggs are fragile and even after many hours of work are put in, they can still break. Lee hopes that when people look at her work, they question what it means to be strong and what it means to be weak.

In recent years, Lee has chosen to embrace her disability and try not to let it define her art. Her current project is the “R.A.N.T. (Recognize Abuse, Neglect and Trauma) & R.A.V.E. (Respect and Value Everyone) Initiative to empower and spread public awareness for childhood abuse and neglect.

To see more of Lee’s work, visit https://www.cherieleecreations.com/.


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