A visit to the maker of delicate eggshell mosaic art from Yamanashi, who is highly regarded abroad
Do you know this form of art called “Eggshell Mosaic”? It is, as the name suggests, mosaics made with eggshells. It can be made into a piece of art for you to simply enjoy looking at but it also can be crafted into something like an everyday item that you can enjoy by attaching the eggshells on various kinds of materials. What’s unique about this art is that it is very delicate. Ms. Ayako Ando, who lives in Fuefuki City, is the only eggshell mosaic artist in Japan and works hard to spread this art form also recognized as a new craft. This month, we paid a visit to this artist for an interview.
Eggshell Mosaic Artist Ayako Ando
Ms. Ando was born in Aichi Prefecture. Her grandmother Hamako Kuwabara was the leading artist of eggshell mosaic and Ms. Ando moved to Fuefuki City, where her grandmother lived after graduating from Nagoya Zokei Junior College of Art & Design. She has polished her skills as a successor and at present works as the only eggshell mosaic artist in Japan. Apart from creating her artworks, she also teaches eggshell mosaic in order to spread the art form.
“Eggshell Mosaic” – A form of art that originated in Yamanashi
To make eggshell mosaics, they use paint called “Suihi”, which is used for traditional Japanese paintings, to color eggshells and then break the eggshells with fingers into different shapes, and attach them on a base using an adhesive. This form of art is known to have been created in Yamanashi Prefecture in 1930.
In Japan, there was a traditional craft that used eggshells since a long time ago. However the craft required a very high expertise and it wasn’t something that many people got to enjoy and the craftwork itself is very rare to find. On the other hand, eggshell mosaic is an easy-to-approach form of art that anyone can enjoy. You can color eggshells yourself and you just need the specialized adhesive, which uses milk protein as the main ingredient, to glue the eggshells.
“It was a very natural thing for me to start eggshell mosaic. There were eggshell mosaics everywhere in our house, so just naturally I started making them sitting next to my grandmother since I was little. Back then I probably thought of it as an ordinary activity like drawing pictures.”
Ms. Ayako Ando tells us how she was introduced to eggshell mosaic art. Then what led her to become so attracted to this art form? She thinks back and says, “I think it was how I made someone happy with my eggshell mosaic.”
“When I was in kindergarten, I gifted my eggshell mosaic to my teacher and the teacher really liked it. I remember feeling happy thinking ‘my eggshell mosaic can make someone this happy’. I think about it now and that might have been a formative experience that led me to become an eggshell mosaic artist.”
She moved to Fuefuki City to learn the techniques. What are the charms of eggshell mosaic?
After that, Ms. Ando worked on her eggshell mosaic for the summer vacation craft assignment when she was in junior high school, and majored in traditional Japanese painting at junior college. “I’d always assumed that I’d also become an eggshell mosaic artist when I grew up”, says Ms. Ando with a laugh.
“All of my sisters and cousins have also made eggshell mosaics with our grandmother at least once. But If I think back now, it was only me who would take the materials home and keep making them. After graduating from junior college, I thought ‘I want to make more eggshell mosaics with my grandma’ and left my hometown to move to Fuefuki City.”
Ms. Ando’s grandmother, Ms. Hamako Kuwabara was the leading artist of eggshell mosaic. She came across eggshell mosaic art when she was 20 years old, and since then she continued to create eggshell mosaics striving for creativity and originality for over 70 years until she passed away at the age of 95.
“My grandma learned firsthand from Mr. Yazaki (Yoshiyuki Yazaki), who was the creator of eggshell mosaic art. I’ve heard that after the war, there was a time when they didn’t have eggs or tools but I think my grandma worked so hard and kept creating eggshell mosaics feeling that she was given the responsibility from her teacher to preserve and protect the art form. She was great at drawing beautiful nature and landscapes.”
“Eggshell mosaic art was my grandmother’s life”, continues Ms. Ando. She tells us that every time she compares her works with her grandmother’s works, she always tells herself to keep working hard and it strengthens her aspiration to improve herself as an artist.
The art form in which Japanese women’s dexterity and sensibility shine
“Mosaics” is an art form that originally comes from Europe. What makes “Eggshell mosaic”, which originated in Yamanashi, unique is its delicateness in both the process of making a mosaic and the finished colors you see on the works.
“I get post-hatching eggshells for my artwork. In post-hatching eggs, the membranes are cleanly removed so the shells can be glued securely. To some extent, eggshell mosaic art relies on eggs themselves. Even with an accidental crack you make on a piece of eggshell, the expression of the artwork changes.”
Firstly Ms. Ando decides a theme she wants to draw, then colors eggshells. When the paint is dry, she varnishes the eggshells to fix the colors. Then she draws a sketch on a base, and breaks colored eggshells with her fingers and attaches them on the base with an adhesive following the sketch.
“I use two to three eggs in an area of about 10cm square. It takes time and a lot of work to finish one piece of work but the more I work on them, the more I feel attached to them. As I work on a piece, it makes me happy and excited to see the progress, which makes me work even harder. Because this form of art is really delicate, you can draw like a painting, too. When you think about the idea and the process of creating this art, I think this art form is suitable for Japanese people’s sensibility.”
The future of Fuefuki City’s new craft “Eggshell Mosaic”
Ms. Ando, who has been exposed to eggshell mosaic since she was little, is the only eggshell artist in Japan at present and continues to create more works.
“99% of eggshells are made of calcium, which is the same as marble. When you glue them on, they have this unique presence and charm.
As a craft, you can also glue them on different items such as bowls and boxes, so I want to make the most of the materials and create better works.”
You can find Ms. Ando’s works at craft shops, and she also takes custom orders where you can request what you’d like her to draw. Additionally, she holds lessons where you can actually experience making eggshell mosaics as well.
Eggshells and Japanese colors. Elaborate, gentle and beautiful eggshell mosaic that was born in Fuefuki City. We’re looking forward to seeing the future development of this new craft.
＼Let’s go to see Ms. Ando／
Store： Eggshell Mosaic
Address： 166 Fujinuta, Sakaigawa-cho, Fuefuki city
Opening hours： 13:00～16:00