story by Sophia V. Schweitzer
photo by Kyle Rothenborg
Dania Zempel sculpts on a canvas that is eyelash-thin and as fragile as an eggshell—a remarkable feat. That it actually is an eggshell—well, that makes it mind-blowing. But for Dania, an artist in Volcano, an egg provides just another surface to explore. “And when someone sees my eggs and says, ‘Wow!’ then I have done my job,” she laughs.
For about thirteen years, this self-taught artist, born and raised in the Hilo area, etched Hawaiian designs onto crystal glassware and local kamani nuts. Then, in January 2005, quite unexpectedly, she succeeded in applying a simple turtle design onto an egg, dropped everything and devoted herself to learning more. Turns out egg artistry moves in a tight community. Dania found support from master carver Gary LeMaster in Iowa and other egg artists nationwide. She discovered that eggs offer infinite creative potential. During the 2005 Arts Pacifica Biennale in Waimea, the three eggs that Dania entered won her the Waimea Arts Council New Artist award. Soon after, LeMaster’s International Egg Carving Contest confirmed her talent by awarding her first place in Novice Filigree and third place in Novice Relief.
Eggs to practice on? While Dania’s first supply came from Betty Chin, a friend in Volcano, she now raises her own chickens and geese. From the Mainland come forest-green and lava-black emu eggs, cream-colored rhea eggs and king-size, sparkling ostrich eggs. Dania is having a blast. With her 400,000-rpm dentist drill and polished bits, she transforms dark emu eggs into relief patterns that reveal delicate layers of teal and cream. Pale-white goose eggs become exquisite filigree resembling Belgian lace. She collaborates on designs with Allan James, a clothing designer who recently moved from Honolulu to Volcano. Patterns play with flower lei, Hawaiian quilts and tropical blossoms. And the honu that started it all is still on the scene—the turtle pattern that sparked such passion returns on most eggs.
Hawaiian Paradise Designs