Now 88 years young, Ray Good first learned the art of Ukrainian egg decorating at the age of 12 from his father, who had moved to the US from Ukraine when he was 15. Ray enjoyed the craft very much, and dabbled throughout his childhood in Buffalo, New York. In his teenage years and as he attended engineering and then law school, other priorities took precedence, but he picked back up with it as he hit his 30’s and beyond. Even after moving to the Village on the Square Independent Living at Three Pillars Senior Living Communities in 2013, he’s hasn’t strayed from his passion, continuing to sharpen his skills and create beautiful, unique masterpieces in his apartment studio year after year. When not working on eggs, he’s a social butterfly, pursuing leisure activities and learning opportunities whenever he can.
In all his years, Ray has never sold his eggs. He finds great joy in giving them as gifts, and has no intention of ever changing that. “In just the past five years, I can recall at least 125 people I’ve gifted eggs to, and it pleases me very much,” grins Ray.
In early 2017, as he does every year, he began planning for how many eggs he’d create over the next 12 months. He made his usual lists of who he’d like to gift an egg to, and any special celebrations that would make good opportunities for a custom egg. His total came in at 35 eggs, plus a few extras since in case an occasion arose. Just as he thought he was done planning, his tally spiked by two.
In the spring of 2017, renowned artist Martin Murk, 89, and his wife, Vera, moved to the Village on the Square. Ever since he was a small boy, he’d taken a liking to art. “I certainly focused more on art than I did on reading and writing,” smiles Martin. His talent flourished through the years. As artist of several wildlife stamps for the government, his work has earned coast-to-coast acclaim. He won the National Duck Stamp in 1977-78, as well as a Wisconsin State Duck Stamp and four State Fish Stamps. The stamp accomplishments opened many doors for Martin, allowing him to paint full time, which became his livelihood.
Martin and Ray met, and the two of them hit it off, sparking a treasured friendship with artistic interest in common. “It wouldn’t be until later that I came to know exactly how accomplished Martin was as an artist,” chuckles Ray with raised eyebrows. “I hadn’t yet ‘Googled him,’ but this man is so talented, and I’m humbled to know him.”
Somewhere along the line, the novel idea of collaborating on a joint-effort decorated egg design struck. Ray knew he had to ask Martin. The two conversed about the basic steps in creating an egg, and how Martin’s skill could come to life in this new medium. Ray explained how a design is applied in pencil to the egg, it’s covered in wax to preserve the white space, and subsequent layers of wax and dye create the design. Surprisingly or not, Martin liked the idea and was up for the challenge of co-creating something he’d never taken on before.
They decided they’d make two similar eggs – one for each of them to keep. With the mission set in motion of Martin taking full creative license on the design, he got to work, beginning the journey by sketching illustration ideas on paper. With a strong passion for wildlife and the outdoors, he gravitates to drawing animals, and the egg design was no different.
His creativity culminated in the illustration of six “birdlike” figurines for one of the eggs, and three for the other. “They’re really imaginative birds; futuristic and creative,” explains Martin.
When Ray laid eyes on the sketches, he was delighted, and it was onto the next step. Martin took to the eggs, transferring his illustration from the paper to the eggshell using graphite. He penciled carefully, covering the delicate white surface.
“Martin’s work is incredible, and it truly has no limits! And as a non-Ukrainian artist, my goodness, did he take ownership of that egg and use it as his canvas,” exclaims Ray. Typically, the traditional Ukrainian egg style of artwork is geometric and all shapes are connected. Martin’s design stretched traditional boundaries, which Ray got a real charge from.
Next, it was Ray’s turn. He adeptly applied wax to the graphite lines, covering each one to seal the lines in place before the coloring process.
“I had Martin inspect my work after the wax had been applied, to ensure it met his standards and maintained the integrity of his work,” reports Ray. “And to my delight, I passed go! Martin approved, and we were off to the races!”
Next up was choosing colors. A strong artist, Martin enjoys drawing and painting best, but could take or leave the responsibility of choosing colors. Ray, always passionate about the designs on his eggs, also found selecting and matching the colors to be his least favorite part.
It was at this point, in the fall of 2017, that another artist came into the picture – the timing and her skills were a serendipitous happenstance. Dint Sweitzer, 88, had just moved into Three Pillars and quickly became busy meeting neighbors. “I was absolutely blown away with how pleasant my first impressions of this place were,” she recalls. “The people are a vibrant, well-rounded, wonderful group, with so many talents, passions, and abilities. This place is so friendly and full of creative people; everyone has their thing.” She was floored each time she’d meet someone new and learn about them; a special interest, talent, collection, artistic ability – you name it.
Now an artist herself, she hadn’t started exploring her artistic side until age 32, when the loving stay-at-home mother of four decided there had to be more than mommy-and-me play groups and Bridge Club. She learned of a Soho, NY artist who was offering art classes in her Hartland, WI, home, and she decided to give it a try, in search of a new direction. “It was an intimidating start, but a pivotal time in my life,” she recalls. Dint quickly found her groove, realizing she was truly an artistic person but hadn’t known it. Today, she paints beautiful multimedia portraits, adding rich, vibrant, three dimensional elements to her pieces, like a fabric scarf, silk flower in the hair, and real jewelry. Colors, textures, and dimension are her passions, and she was tickled to share her art with new neighbors each time someone came by to meet her.
“I’d only lived here two weeks when I got a phone call from someone new,” Dint recollects. “It was Ray. He introduced himself, said he’d heard about me, and said he’d like to come over to talk to me.” She chuckles as she remembers thinking, “Alright then… is this just how people are here?”
As you might guess, Ray explained the collaborative project to her, and posed the question if she’d consider being the color planner for the eggs. Though a new medium, color planning was right up Dint’s alley, and she happily accepted the challenge. Before she knew it, her apartment studio was now home to two eggs covered in line drawings. Working off photographs of the eggs printed on paper, she filled them in with the colors her artistic eye was drawn to.
Ray says, “I’ll tell you what: Dint’s not used to staying in the lines, following concise rules, or sticking with simple colors, but she was up for the challenge and she was wildly successful.” Dint said her children were surprised to see her newest endeavor, commenting how unusual it was to see only her tiny brushes out as she worked within the minuscule confines of sketched lines on an eggshell. “It was very not me, but I sure had fun with it!”
The final step in completing the eggs would be for Ray to apply the colors Dint identified over the wax layers in the correct order. He took great pride in unifying their ideas and bringing them to life, and the three couldn’t wait to see the final result.
At last, it was time to remove the wax layers and reveal the final product. Ray, “The Color Applicator,” Martin, “The Artist,” and Dint, “The Color Consultant,” got together in a coffee café at Three Pillars, with a small audience gathered to watch. “It was really a peak moment for me, one of great anticipation,” recalls Ray with a sparkle in his eye. With his co-artists on either side, he peeled back the wax layers one by one, with each proudly unveiling a new color. He laughs as he says, “You may as well have assumed we were awaiting the birth of a great-grandchild, with the rate of excitement and anticipation we felt! They turned out just beautifully.”
Looking back, Martin comments, “Neither Dint nor I had ever worked on a decorative egg before, and no one in our threesome has ever been a co-artist on a collaborative endeavor.”
Dint adds, “It was a fun challenge for all of us, really, having never done anything like it before. It was fun, it was different, and it was a learning experience.”
While the two eggs are now complete, the creative work isn’t slowing down in this trio. Martin was recently invited by a Ducks Unlimited chapter to submit a logo design for consideration, and was also commissioned by the Village on the Square Interior Design Committee to create a new custom piece to redecorate their mantle. Dint continues to work in her studio every afternoon, each day adding onto a new multimedia piece. Ray keeps on with his eggs, already planning and working on those he’ll give as gifts for Christmas of 2018. In addition, the three mutually agreed that they’d like to collaborate on eggs again, so we anticipate their next creations sometime this year, with first priority being one for Dint as her keepsake.
The story of this artistic collaboration is about more than creativity, more than teamwork, and more than friendship. “This really tells a remarkable story,” beams Ray. “It’s one of older adults going after passions, continuing to be imaginative, and continuing to come up with innovations. It’s the concept that we have the great ideas, we work on them, we execute, and we continue working on our craft. Who knows, maybe we’ll inspire others, whether older adults or young, to do something unique like this.”
A note from Ray: To learn more about his egg decorating technique and try it yourself, view this tutorial on Batik Eggs.