PRINCETON — When Shirley Hambrick came to the United States from Scotland to work on a yacht, she didn’t know she would end up staying and living her artistic dream in the mountains of Southern West Virginia.
Born in Scotland and educated at the Edinburgh College of Art and Design, Hambrick specialized in the medieval arts of stained glass and woven tapestries.
“The tapestries are an old art, using warps and wefts to build up pictures with yarn. It’s not an inexpensive art because it takes so long to do. They aren’t needed as much as they were when they were once used in drafty castles,” she said.
After traveling Europe in her 20s, she left for the New World, where she met her husband and settled down to have three daughters. She moved her family to West Virginia 22 years ago to be near her husband’s family. Almost immediately, she found her artistic niche with a group of other crafters in the area’s Country Craft Guild.
The Guild, made up of painters, woodworkers, jewelry makers, basket weavers, and a variety of other talents, warmly welcomed Hambrick and her unique skills. Her artistic forte is making stained and carved ostrich eggs.
Hambrick said she orders her ostrich eggs in bulk from South Africa, and the empty shells arrive cleaned and ready for carving.
She said the carved shells sell well because of the novelty of the item. She has carved bears and dolphins at the request of customers, but prefers a more delicate design. She once carved 200 ostrich eggs for a wedding, a time-consuming task, she said, mainly because she was cleaning the shells herself at the time.
“It took about an hour and a half to carve each of those eggs, but they took about three hours with the cleaning,” she explained.
Warm, soapy water does the trick for removing the membrane from the eggs, which are the size of about two dozen chicken eggs.
Her stained glass work ranges from small suncatchers to large panels of art. She has completed some commissioned pieces, such as kitchen cabinet doors and privacy screens for bathrooms. She spends a lot of time repairing stained glass pieces for customers as well.
Hambrick works out of her basement studio.
“My basement is my studio, but it’s also my basement, so it’s not ideal, but it’s my space,” she said.
She uses a carving tool similar to a Dremel rotator tool, but much more powerful.
“It’s kind of like a Dremel, but a Dremel has 10,000 to 12,000 RPMs. Mine goes to 360,000 RPMs. I can carve anything that’s hard enough—hardwood, glass, eggs, metal,” she said.
Hambrick is a Tamarack artist and attends Tamarack exhibitions. She also teaches classes in stained glass at the Mercer County Technical Education Center and the Chuck Mathena Center Daylight Arts Series. She sells her wares at the Country Craft Guild shows. The next Guild show is at the Chuck Mathena Center on Saturday, Nov. 5, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. She will have works available ranging from $10 suncatchers to hand engraved glass ornaments to larger glass panel pieces starting at $100.
Hambrick has a site on Etsy, an online marketplace for selling handmade items. The site gives her an opportunity to sell in a global commerce setting. But she says she enjoys living in West Virginia where she can be inspired by nature. Some of her works portray the flowers, animals, and mountains of the area. She also appreciates being within a day’s drive of the glass factories in the state.
Hambrick said the challenging aspect of her work is when her vision outshines her art medium.
“It’s challenging when my ambitions are somewhat limited by the materials I use. If I carve too much, the ostrich egg becomes too delicate. But I kind of like the challenge because it keeps me on my toes,” she said.
Hambrick has recently taken up a new medium: painting. She said she feels successful until she compares her works to those of an artist friend.
“But you can’t compare yourself to somebody else. You can only compare to yourself and where you were before, like where you’ve come since a year ago” she said.
The reward, she said, is “when I have an idea for something, and people get it, people get what I meant when I did it. As long as I can communicate an idea, then it’s successful.”
— Contact Jeanie Brown at email@example.com