Art is not limited to traditional materials
says artist Rob Ghio
|Rob Ghio of
Columbia began raising emus a decade ago. Along the way he discovered
a talent for creating beautiful artwork from emu eggs and dried gourds.
The object immediately grabs
your attention first for its size and then for the unusual images
decorating its surface.
The object, a 2-foot tall,
hollowed-out gourd is bedecked with 10 frogs sitting on lily pads, tongues
flitting at flies. A closer look at the artwork reveals the images are
actually carved into the surface of the gourd while the frog's eyes radiate
a shimmering green.
The gourd is the pride of artisan
Rob Ghio who explains that the green of the eyes are actually pieces of
emu egg shell. Ghio carved the delicate pieces of shell and inlaid them
into the surface of the gourd.
Nearly a decade ago Ghio, who
owns a small farm north of Columbia he calls Rocky Fork, joined the budding
emu industry when breeding pairs of the birds sold for thousands of dollars
and emu farmers were working hard to establish markets for the bird's
products, principally meat, feathers and medicinal oils made from the
For a time hundreds of people
around the United States raised the birds in anticipation that one day
large markets for emu products would develop. But those markets never
"We started raising emus and
tried to market its meat and the fat," says Ghio, who has raised the birds
since 1994. "There's not enough meat on them, only about 25 pounds and
a good portion of that is tough. There's no breast meat, just drum and
thigh. This bird's built to run, not to fly."
And though Ghio does sell
some emu oil, the market is too small to make all the work involved worthwhile.
At one time Ghio, a Boone Electric
Cooperative member, raised 10 breeding pairs of emus and one year butchered
nearly 100 birds himself. Gradually he cut back to just four breeding
pairs and began looking for other ways to make a living.
"I was aware that emu egg
shell could be carved," says Ghio. "Well, I'm a tinkerer and I thought
I'd try my hand at it."
His first rough attempt, using
a Dremel rotary tool which is popular with hobbyists, was a frustrating
experience. "I carved a picture of an emu on an egg and, good God, it
took me two weeks. It was drudgery."
6-gallon gourd festooned with frogs is valued at $2,100.
Undaunted, Ghio talked to other
egg shell carvers and found he just needed the right tool. Many carvers
use a professional jeweler's tool similar to a dentist's drill.
"When I got satisfactory equipment
I really began to like this." Last
year Ghio went a step further and bought an air-driven tool that operates
at 450,000 rpm and gives him more control.
The outside of an emu egg is
a dark green, almost black, color. Ghio uses drill bits to grind through
the surface to reveal a white layer. By varying the depth of his carving,
Ghio produces images with a rich range of color from dark, emerald green
to light turquoise to stark white.
Ghio's art took a new twist
a few years ago when he showed his carved eggs at a small-farm conference
at the Boone County fair grounds. Also at the fair grounds was the annual
conference of the Show-me Gourd Society and Ghio says he was amazed by
what he found.
"I was just blown away by what
people can make with gourds and the different shapes and sizes. I immediately
saw the potential of combining gourd and egg shell. I was consumed by
what I was doing."
Ghio finds inspiration for
his art in the world of nature and native peoples. He studies the art
of aborigines of Australia as well as North and South American Indians
and his favorite subjects are the animals those cultures revered.
"Native peoples like the aborigines
lived close to nature. They respect critters and admired them and often
held them as equals."
Ghio's work features animals
of every description from spiders, turtles and fish to the Australian
frilled lizard. His work is often graphic and stylized much like prints
made from wood block engravings. Most of all they are rich in color and
They have so much detail, in
fact, a typical carved egg may take 20 hours or more to complete for which
Ghio earns from $150 to $400. His gourds inlaid with shell, which are
more involved, can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to the $2,100
price tag he has on his 6-gallon gourd festooned with frogs. His
work has sold in numerous stores and art galleries.
Ghio still keeps emus on his
farm which provide more than enough eggs each year for his art. He can
now say that he's found a market for emu products, only it's a market
he never dreamed he would tap.
For information about Ghio's
work write: Rob and Betty Ghio's Rocky Fork Farms, 651 Calvert Hill Road,
Columbia, MO 65202; or call (573) 442-9014. You can see more of Ghio's
eggs and gourds on the Internet at www.rockyforkfarms.com.