By Joseph Pratt
June 21, 2014
When I started to really integrate myself into the local art scene, I wondered how long it would take until I stopped being surprised by the level of artistic talent our community has hidden behind the confines of our flood wall and hillsides.
I’ve yet to be bored by discovering a new talent and each one leaves me with a yearning to know more about an artist’s trade and how they got to the point of where they are at. The list of impressive locals continues to grow with each story I write and I feel like I never get to adequately focus on the individuals when talking about their endeavors.
It is with that, that I’ve decided to dedicate a section of my Curtain Call Columns to the locals that make art what it is and give me security in the job I love. So, it is my goal to give highlight to artists around every first and third weekend of the month.
It only feels right that I start off with local artist Martha Eichenlaub Padget. I’ve been fascinated by this woman’s stories, both reflecting her ancient Hungarian art form and her German-American heritage.
Padget was born in a Yugoslavia province in 1943, in a place that Padget describes as a thoroughfare of Europe. Padget’s grandfather was born under the Austria-Hungary Kingdom, her grandmother was born in a Hungarian kingdom, her mother was born in Serbia and Padget was born in Germany.
“We all lived in the same house,” Padget explained. “In Europe, the families stay together. Grandparents, and mothers, and fathers, and children, okay? So it was my grandparents, parents my two brothers and me living together.”
Padget said that growing up closely to her family shaped who she is today and planted a love of art in her that would grow to sustain decades.
“I am very lucky that I was raised by a family that, to them, art was everywhere and was everything. My parents absolutely adored art and they saw it in every walk of life. So, we were always experiencing art in different ways,” Padget said.
Padget’s work in art began when she was seven-years-old and was taught how to create a European Easter egg, an ancient tradition, by her great-grandmother.
“In that part of Europe, people used to make special Easter eggs. Boys would come over the day after Easter and they would spray girls with perfume. It is sort of a tradition, I guess. As you get older, the one suitor that comes to spray you with perfume, the prettiest egg you give to him. That is your way of accepting him as a suitor,” Padget explained.
Padget was taught to dye her eggs with natural stains as a child. Paprika achieves a red pigment, onion skins achieves brown and so on. Padget uses various types of eggs, from duck to ostrich. She also clear coats the egg a few times to make them durable and keep the dye from lifting away.
“I asked my grandmother to show me and I was hooked,” Padget said. “To see something that simple, a plain egg, be turned into a piece of art, to me that was just amazing and I’ve been making eggs ever since.”
The Hungarian art takes on new life when the next step comes into play and the artist begins to scratch designs onto the dyed egg. The time frame per each egg various by how detailed the image is. Some eggs might only take up to eight hours, whereas a scenic egg might take as long as a month.
“The details can take a while and I want the images to look like they are real,” Padget explained. “If I etch an animal, I want to make it look like it is about to step out of that egg. I want the beauty of the egg to be noticed, but I also want people to see how beautiful the animals are, so I am working to do both.”
European Easter eggs would have designs on them and wouldn’t typically have portraits or scenes too intricate etched into them. Padget used to make her eggs more traditionally and stick to patterns and designs, but needed a more detailed distraction when she lost her husband. She then recalls praying for something new around the time she said she remade her art form.
Being a painter and sketchbook artist as well, Padget has always been very in-tuned to detailed artwork. It was then that she decided to expand on her great-grandmother’s teachings and carve entire scenes and portraits into the dyes of the egg.
The art form is a tricky one, because Padget says there is no messing up. Once the dye is removed, it cannot be fixed without it being obvious, so she has to work delicately. Each scratch is strategic in achieving the desired shade and image. If an error occurs, the entire project has to be discarded.
“To me, it is mind boggling,” Padget said about the popularity of her artwork and her desire to keep the Hungarian art form alive. “It has always just been a hobby for me, until my friend stole some of my eggs and entered them into the Scioto County fair in my name. She tricked me to go out and see them and I won first and third place in the art category. I’ve since been in the paper, Country Living and those types of things.”
Padget never had a child interested in learning the practice, but has had a number of students over the years. In fact, Padget has had two different young artists learn the trade from her that used the work to receive scholarships for college. Padget describes these moments as some of the highlights of her life.
“Creating these eggs is something I truly enjoy and love. I didn’t go to school to learn it; it is just something that I just can’t explain. Let’s just face it, I am the Egg Lady. I am the Otway Egg Lady and I am proud of it,” Padget said. “They are a part of me. When you see a bowl of cleaned and shined eggs, they look like pearls. They are gorgeous just by themselves and for me to be able to add more to that beauty is something I can’t even believe myself sometimes.”
Padget works at the Boneyfiddle Art Center on Wednesday and Friday evenings. She is very friendly and is willing to discuss her past and her art form with interested BAC patrons. When it comes to artists, there aren’t many more interesting and personable. Not only as an arts writer, but as someone intrigued by the unique lives of local people, I cannot explain enough how important I believe it is that we pay tribute to the silver linings and unique personalities our town is so blessed with. Padget is just one of many.
Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, EXT 287, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.