Mercedes Kotelnicki of Cameron Park holds the "Spirit of America," a decorated ostrich egg that will soon become part of the Smithsonian Institute's art collection. Cameron Park Life photo by Shelly Thorene

Cameron Park Life

An egg-cellent accomplishment

By From page C2 | January 01, 2013

Eighty-nine year old Mercedes Kotelnicki has one of her egg creations in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, another in a Catholic motherhouse museum in Canada and, now, one is going to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

“The Spirit of America” is an ostrich egg Kotelnicki decorated in 1984. “I wanted to do something to show how I felt about America,” the Cameron Park resident explained. The egg is crowned with a golden eagle and rests on a gold, four-legged base. The American flag and copies of famous paintings showing Betsy Ross, George Washington, the writing of the Declaration of Independence and three Revolutionary War musicians adorn the outside of the egg. Double doors on the egg open to reveal an intricate miniature scene on the steps of the Capitol building and decorated quail egg suspended under the larger egg bears the likeness of the White House.

The gold eagle on the top of the egg is a copy of the emblem worn on her hat when Kotelnicki was a member of the Detroit Navy Anchorettes in 1942.

“My mother wouldn’t let me go into the real Navy, so I joined the Anchorettes and we sang and visited with wounded soldiers and sold war bonds,” said Kotelnicki. In 1945 Kotelnicki’s mother changed her mind and she joined the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, WAVES. She is still a member of the Sacramento WAVES organization, even though her service ended with end of the war.

All of Kotelnicki’s eggs have a theme and tell a story. Her favorite egg is an ostrich egg that opens to a lighted Christmas scene complete with carolers in the snow. The back of the egg opens to a tiny living room papered in actual wallpaper and decorated for Christmas. The egg is mounted on a music box that plays a Christmas song.

She decorated 14 goose eggs to look like hot-air balloon eggs to match the pins of the state officers for the Placerville Emblem Club 287, the women’s auxiliary to the Order of Elks, where she has been a member for 30 years. Another ostrich egg depicts the Yellow Brick Road and Dorothy on her journey to the Emerald City. The wicked trees in the forest are weeds from Kotelnicki’s garden that she washed, dried, spray-painted brown and turned upside-down.

There is a Blarney Stone egg and an egg commemorating California, its base a gold nugget and a clown egg. Some eggs open vertically; others open horizontally. Intricate and detailed, each hand-done scene is unique.

“I took a workshop in Southern California in 1975 after I saw a friend’s egg,” said Kotelnicki. She still has the first goose egg she decorated with a Currier and Ives snow scene and a tiny ice skater. “I used to have to blow out the eggs, wash them out and gently bleach them, but now I buy the empty, prepared eggs at our egg show conventions.” Egg artistry, a respected art for centuries has become big business since Kotelnicki began her art. She is a member of the Northern California Egg Artists and the International Egg Guild.

Her creations have been featured in four television programs and numerous magazines and newspaper articles. There is even a Wagon Train egg. It opens horizontally with a wagon train inside, a tiny Belltower that took her two painstaking days to make, and little children sitting on the curb to watch the Wagon Train parade pass by.

“I used to volunteer with the Wagon Train,” said Kotelnicki. She also volunteered at Pride and Joy for 25 years. At one point, when she and her second husband, Norman, retired and moved to El Dorado County, Kotelnicki thought of decorating eggs as a business. As a pun on her first name, Mercedes, her husband  made miniature Mercedes symbols to use on her eggs. “But I always ended up giving most of my eggs away.”

Like the egg she built for Jim and Peggy Drake’s 50th anniversary. Kotelnicki worked for Marquart Aircraft on the moon project in 1953 with Peggy Drake. The goose egg has pictures of the moon landing in 1969 on it as well as depictions of surfing, Las Vegas and martinis, all part of the Drakes’ life.

“She builds them piece by piece, hand-placing every bead and each part,” said Ginger Fish. Fish, whose mother lives near Kotelnicki, has become friends with Kotelnicki. “I was so impressed with her work and then she started giving eggs away, so I took pictures of them.” Fish used the pictures to make a book, now featured in Kotelnicki’s living room. She also helped Kotelnicki get her egg accepted by the Smithsonian.

“She tried for about two months to get the name of a contact at the Smithsonian, and when she did I e-mailed him for her,” said Fish. She sent photos of the Spirit of America to Dr. William Lawrence Bird, curator in the Political History Division, who called Kotelnicki and then wrote her a letter expressing his delight in accepting the egg for the Smithsonian.

“His letter said they would be sending someone to pack it properly and take it back to the Smithsonian,” said Kotelnicki. The packing and transfer have not yet been scheduled, but Kotelnicki is taking good care of the egg.

Still active in Placerville Emblem Club, bunco, poker and rummy groups, Kotelnicki is taking time now to say goodbye to each of them. In August she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given six months to a year to live.

“I’m leaving a legacy as cancer takes me out the door,” said Kotelnicki. “I should have died 45 years ago when I got a staph infection, so I’m blessed to be going out the door with so many wonderful memories.”

She  has cabinets full of empty eggs, waiting for her imagination and creative spark to turn them into things of beauty and she’s still working on a few of them even now.

Wendy Schultz


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